Wollongong: Words do the work of the soul, when the body fails to hold it

Society City, a community-run bookshop and event space in Wollongong, Australia, recently closed its doors. They share how the Coronavirus outbreak and the measures to stop its spread are experienced in small, sprawling city of suburban blocks. "Here, isolation really would be isolating." But as long as we don't neglect our inner and imaginative worlds, the words will do their work.

We are being told to practice social distancing. 1.5 metres, they say. It is just a recommendation at this point.


This is Australia and we do not like to overreact. It is un-Australian. But so is panic buying toilet paper and we are doing a lot of that. Perhaps we are suspending our national identity along with gatherings of over 100 people.


Photo by Society City Collective.

We only have 2,000 intensive care hospital beds. We are watching Italy fill theirs quickly. We are working from home and watching updates from our government as it discusses the cost to the economy of doing anything real. We watch Spain celebrate small victories with light shows from their windows. They are folding their lives into four walls yet still finding ways to reach out. Most people in our small, sprawling city of suburban blocks can’t see much but trees and quiet streets from their windows. Here, isolation really would be isolating.

'Most people in our small, sprawling city of suburban blocks can’t see much but trees and quiet streets from their windows. Here, isolation really would be isolating'

If we cannot gather, how will we remember those we can no longer see? Forsaken to fight an invisible enemy- this delicate thing called society could so easily slip away. We are building towers of toilet paper in our living rooms as a reminder that we are closing our shops and suspending our events for a reason.

Yet many are forgetting. The beaches and the parks are full and alcohol sales are through the roof. Those in secure jobs with good unions and decent pay are glad of the time to slow down. Those that aren’t continue to put their low paid bodies at risk because the government is too scared to call a stop to it all. We are failing to flatten the curve.


Society City: a community run bookshop and event space. Photo by author

We closed our community-run bookshop and event space. Social isolation is hard to practice at Society City; a place we built to fight social atomisation and regain proximity. ‘Privatisation’ is now both the building blocs of our economic system and a necessity of our biological one. Like many groups around us, we are taking a stand by stepping down so that those who are more vulnerable, to the disease and to the social dysfunction it is causing, might not have too.

'We are taking a stand by stepping down so that those who are more vulnerable, to the disease and to the social dysfunction it is causing, might not have too'

We know we can no longer fight atomisation through that kind of proximity. To go on would be an anathema. So what then might we learn about closeness from distance?

Poets are doing live streams from their bedrooms. Musicians and promoters are organising virtual music festivals. The activists have stopped planning protests and are co-ordinating online mutual aid networks.


The writers and the readers hold their books close. Each page that lifts and presses reminds us what we already knew. Words have always done the work of the soul when the body fails to hold it properly. They move us in. We are mortal, but they know no such bounds. We call on them now to make us boundless.


This story was shared with us by the Society City Collective, which runs a second-hand bookstore, spaces for community events and co-working and a free school in Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia, and can be found on Instagram.

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