coo thrum whirl
by Ruby Waldo
The lullaby’s job is to soften, to provide a little ease in a time of transition. Sometimes a lullaby is simply a song. Other times it’s a stone left in your pocket. Counting the squares of the sidewalk as you pass over them is also a form of lullaby. It certainly never hurts to hum to yourself, but, what if lullabies were our shared responsibility? Each time you feel called to sing yourself a lullaby, you are also choosing to practice for the next time you might sing with or for others.
In the fall of 2021, Bao Nguyen, a friend and curator from Chicago, IL, approached me about being part of a curatorial project they had been envisioning about lullabies. As we spoke about acts of care, ritual, and performance, I found myself returning to past experiences of organizing. Throughout the last year, I’ve been working closely with my colleagues on a union campaign at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore City. The framework that Bao was building to explore the concept of the lullaby relied upon close listening, ongoing participation, and shared vulnerability. In my experience, each of these elements has been crucial to mobilizing and maintaining organizing efforts. These simple acts of care have grown in scale from one-on-one phone calls to weekly meetings to rallys to a public hearing. It is out of these smaller gestures of listening closely, sharing stories, and staying with each other that our union campaign has emerged.
coo / thrum / whirl : lullaby as collective action was a virtual workshop held at dusk in November 2021. The workshop was structured around a series of exercises to consider how the lullaby might be a model for organizing collective care. Participants listened closely and stayed curious as they collaborated on a score for a lullaby to be performed and shared broadly.
Read: a definition & a list.
Lullaby: a song used to lull, to fall asleep; a cradlesong.
Read the list below then ask yourself, what else?
Consider, a lullaby
as staying for a while,
as staying with each other.
Exercise I: warm
Take the next three minutes to write. Describe where you are right now. What’s in the room? What’s on your mind? Attend to the textures that surround you. This could be the quality of light, the air temperature, the ambient sounds, lingering scents or passing thoughts.
Exercise II: warmer
Bring your voice into this space. Hum for one minute. Allow the sound to keep you company.
Exercise III: warmest
Draft a question. What are you curious about when it comes to rest, to care, to lullabies?
I’ve been asking myself, “How can a lullaby be an organizing strategy?”
Read: adrienne maree brown on Emergence
Many of us have been socialized that constant growth, and critical mass, are the ways to create change. but emergence shows us that adaptation and evolution depend more upon critical connections.
Listen: Mourning Doves
You can often hear paired males give the three-parted “nest call” while nest-building: a coo-OO-oo, highest in the middle.
Read: How Dark the Beginning by Maggie Smith
All we ever talk of is light —
let there be light, there was light then,
good light — but what I consider
dawn is darker than all that.
Listen: When the Earth Started to Sing by David Haskell
The spoken word can unify us into collective action. Listening expands the bounds of kinship, joy, and right action.
Read: On Nighttime by Hanif Abdurraqib
I learned to value the way a voice can interrupt longing. How it builds a bridge that feels real from the place you are to the place you want to be.
Listen: Care Work by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
During the workshop, participants listened to the following as they wrote their contribution to the score. For a brief listen, tune into 18:30 to 20:30 of AAWW and later, 32:50 to 35:30. Then, 18:35 to 22:50 of DIS2018.
Read: Loitering is Delightful by Ross Gay. You can also listen to Ross Gay read his essay in an interview On Tending to Joy and Practicing Delight under “Extras”.
Which points to another of the synonyms for loitering, which I almost wrote as delight: taking one’s time.
Listen: Pop Up Magazine’s The Night Sky
At night in my room when it’s dark, all the light I get is from my fan and from my clock. And, I don’t like it. I’m Mateo and I’m turning eleven on Monday. Well, I mostly fear like something’s gonna walk through my door since it’s dark. I’m looking at my door. I’m like ‘Oh gosh, get in — I want to get into my nook and I’m scared’.
Read: How to Prepare Your Body and Mind for a Nice Nap by Tricia Hersey of The Nap Ministry for The Healing Justice Podcast. You can also listen to the full podcast episode, Practice: The Perfect Nap with Tricia Hersey of The Nap Ministry.
Number one: every surface where you feel safe is the best place to nap. I have napped outdoors, on couches, at yoga studios, in church, on public trains, on planes, in my car during lunch hour. It goes back to the original starting point, that we don’t have to wait for the perfect space — every surface where you feel safe is the best place to nap. So if you remember that you can get a really good nap in almost anywhere.
Number two: sound can be healing, but it doesn’t have to be from music. Silence is also a sound. Find and cultivate silence daily. So this is your path, and your tool is to try to find moments of silence in your daily life, find moments of Sabbath that you can integrate daily. In silence, we’re able to embody a pure rest and a deeper rest. And if you can’t nap — there are some people who have issues napping — and I always believed that silence is just as important as napping, slowing down, daydreaming. So cultivate silence.
Number three: baths. Go to the water. Salt and essential oil soaks are ancient wisdom for our bodies and facilitate amazing naps. So taking baths — soaking — is one of our biggest healing tools. It actually helps to relax us and it can be one of the rituals that we begin to integrate into our daily lives. I take a bath every day, and also nap every day, so I believe that water has a space to heal us, water is anointed, and it can be a place to help us find our best nap.
Listen: Score for a Lullaby in Late November
The following is the score for a lullaby that workshop participants co-authored and read aloud. Each participant wrote a set of instructions to guide the lullaby and chose a picture to accompany their words from an image bank compiled from my personal archive. Listen with care. If you feel called to, follow the prompts and perform the score for yourself. You can also read it below.
Read: coo / thrum / whirl : lullaby as collective action follow-up
A week after the workshop, I emailed participants to share and ask the following questions. Each is identified below with their initials.
RW: I wanted to reach back out to see if you have any follow-up questions, daydreams, or revelations? Or, were you able to carry anything with you? Here is a song I keep coming back to when I think of the definition of a lullaby. I keep this song in my toolbelt! It’s helped me on countless occasions. Often I play it when I’m trying to calm a toddler down or to soften the atmosphere of a young person’s hectic morning. Do you have any similar songs dear to your heart — any songs you can count on for utility, for atmosphere, for lullaby?
MF: What resonated most with me last week was listening keenly to the voices of people I was meeting for the first time, and getting to know them just a little bit through the qualities of their voice. I have been listening to this a lot as I fall asleep lately — it makes an excellent lullaby.
AP: I know that workshop will continue to inform me throughout time. It was fun to make doodles with words. And it was kind that you helped that process. It is nothing but a pleasure to offer you my time and contemplation. Yes, thank you for organizing that opportunity for vulnerability! I was just thinking about Penguin Cafe Orchestra. This album really helped in one of my toughest times. Some of the softest and most gentle music I’ve heard. Or I also go to any Simon Diaz recording.
HW: The workshop absolutely resounds in me still. In particular, the acceptance of and flexibility in our collaborations, and how I can impart that empathy going forward both as a listener and a speaker. Here’s a song that I refer to to give others calm.
BN: One thing that stuck with me after the workshop and subconsciously stayed for the rest of that week was a feeling of warmth and comfort but also vulnerability. There is something about hearing the vulnerable and faithful voices of people that stays with me. Would love to share these two songs with you! The first translates to Seeing Myself As a Waterfall at Night and the second to Island of Refuge.
Listen: Lullabies for the Revolution
Lullabies to nurture emancipatory dreamworlds for children of all ages.
Exercise IV: sharing this warmth
Here are some of the lullabies I find myself singing often.
These practices help me to move at my own pace from point A to point B.
i. Keep a hot water bottle nearby. Fill it up with warm water and hold it close. Allow it to soften the process of digestion or to calm the ache of a muscle. Once the water cools completely, I often use it to hydrate the plants in my bedroom.
ii. Breathing in for 4, holding for 4, exhaling for 4, then holding for 4 seconds once more. Imagine that you are drawing a line with each 4 second count to eventually form a square. With each cycle, trace this square, each time trusting it a little more.
iii. Burn a beeswax candle and collect any wax that drips. Hold it in your fist as it softens into a form then roll it around in your palms for a gentle hand massage. Beeswax brings additional warmth to the hands unlike clay which tends to absorb heat.
Read: Organizing Power Vol. 1 & 2
This booklet explains what a union is and who can join one. You’ll find a clear outline of the steps for forming a union, and ways employers might respond.
Read: Sheet Music for the Natural World by Michelle Fournet for Broadcast
In one figure we see the sounds of the natural world coupled with the structure of the natural world: nuance and organization that demonstrates that the ocean is filled with more than either silence or chaos.
Read: The 24/7 Bed by Beatriz Colomina for Work, Body, Leisure
Nothing happening was the happening. But John and Yoko were undermining the normal understanding of what is work, what is private, what is protest, and what is an event.