“The 3 a.m. Antidote”: Art through Craft to End Gun Violence

Nothing good tends to happen at 3 a.m. When I worked the graveyard shift, I read articles about how bad it is for your body to stay awake in the middle of the night and (try to) sleep during the day, and I’ll tell you right now that I didn’t need an article to tell me that. One in particular described 3 to 5 a.m. as the zone, the time when your brain and other vital organs really should be in rest mode, performing their countless unseen processes for recovery and repair.

Science knows so much, and yet science still seems to say that sleep and dreams, on a biological level, are a mystery—an idea I love, honestly.

When you’re not resting at 3 a.m., your view of the world can get skewed. I know this well, too, as an insomnia battler.

If you’re not sleeping, what do you do at 3 a.m.? I’ll tell you what I do: I worry, obsess, get up and go to another room and sleeping platform (a.k.a. the couch in my office), read, write, knit, meditate, breathe, do reiki, do yoga, stretch, worry, obsess, repeat.

Too Close

Sometimes at 3 a.m. I call 9-1-1 because the reason I’m awake is a gunshot, or more than one. That noise is distinct. The first time you hear it, you think, hmm, firecracker? But if you hear it often enough, you know. You know. And even if it’s a mile away, distorted by the flexing of space and time that alters everything in the middle of the night, you think it’s close, too close, so very, very close.

Violently Flawed

It’s no secret that I love living in Chicago. I call this place my Goldilocks city because it has somehow managed to strike the sweet spot of my East Coast upbringing (fast pace, urban dreams) and my formative years of young adulthood in the Pacific Northwest (down-to-earth hearts and minds). I don’t care about the weather—just like in the Northwest, thriving in a challenging climate means being prepared and dressing appropriately.

But Chicago isn’t perfect. Far from it. If you live here, you probably know what I’m about to say: crime. Guns. The violence is unreal. And yet here it is. Reality.

In my old neighborhood, I didn’t have to call 9-1-1 to report gunshots, but that doesn’t mean much. Where I live now, I’ve called 9-1-1 at least three times in a summer, sometimes more, and I’m not even considering what I’ve slept through—and I slept through a bullet hitting the building across from mine (how, I really don’t know, but I think I was deep in some insomnia recovery).

As bleak as the situation seems, and if you watch the news for five minutes, it seems pretty damn bleak, there are people working hard all over Chicago, searching for solutions and making them happen.

Hopeful

My friend Shannon Downey, of Badass Cross Stitch (and so much more), created a gun pattern and called for stitchers all over to send her their work for an art show to benefit Project FIRE (Fearless Initiative for Recovery and Empowerment). Craftivism. Artists, psychologists, activists, creators, makers—all coming together to help young people affected by gun violence heal through the alchemy of art.

I missed one of Shannon’s recent embroidery classes (because of—wait for it—insomnia), but I’ve been turning yarn and sticks into knitted stuff since I was a small fry. So I knew I had to make something and participate.

When you don't know what to do, create something.

“The 3 a.m. Antidote,” knitted in cotton

The purple yarn of the gun is actually knitted cord, the bulk of which I made during a particularly awful period of insomnia this past summer. Three stitches over and over, a knitting technique called i-cord (short for idiot cord), which is easy to knit in the dark in the middle of the night.

The opening reception for the art show is Friday, November 4, at Pilsen Outpost. All art will be for sale, and all proceeds go directly to Project FIRE. Here are more details:

And here is the piece I wrote to go with the art:

“The 3 a.m. Antidote”

I love Chicago. I love my neighborhood. I hold this love in my heart when it’s another Saturday night, 3 a.m. or so, and I punch 9-1-1 into my phone.

“Yeah, I live at the corner of ________ and ________, and I just heard gunshots. Three in a row. They sounded pretty close. No, I don’t want to give my name. Thank you.”

I love Chicago. I love my neighborhood. I hold this love in my heart when I think about how beautiful and terrible it is to live here—diverse and thriving, segregated and hurting. Wounded. When I think of how even a few calls to 9-1-1, usually in the summer, are a few too many, and how a few shootings around the block, up a few blocks, are way too many—but they pale in comparison to other neighborhoods, south of me, west of me.

Children running from and running with guns.

Holding these ideas all at once. The lightness of love and the heaviness of violence. Where does the balance come in?

While knitting the gun for this project, I thought a lot about the image and symbol of a gun—and how it’s a tool, a weapon, with such stark purposes. Death. Fear. Might. And I thought about “Chicago’s gun problem” and how certain people (whom I will not name) think this problem can be fixed, quickly, as if a bunch of us in this city were just sitting around, loving the death show and waiting until we felt like fixing the problem.

How can you fix it?

If you felt forgotten, marginalized, poor, alone, nameless, voiceless, why wouldn’t you reach for this tool, this weapon?

I have never held a gun, but I imagine what it might feel like. To feel like a god. To feel like God, with a capital G. To feel like a warrior. Life and death. Your life, another’s death.

If you were voiceless, powerless, beat down, wouldn’t a gun feel like an answer?

I wish it didn’t. I don’t know the answer, but I know a gun shouldn’t be it.

What’s the answer for me? What I can do? What do I have? These tools of mine. Make something. Use words.

I know knitting a gun scared me. Perhaps I’m superstitious, but even its likeness, this symbol, frightened me. Hearts, I thought. It needs hearts.

Make something. Speak. Keep going. Be another big Chicago heart, working for peace.

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