Updated: Jan 18
On a clear day, after a quick walk up the hill behind our house to the highest point on Lismore, you can see the island stretch out, resting gently in the waters of Loch Linnhe, framed by Morven on one side and Appin on the other, looking South towards Mull and North towards Ben Nevis. In its long history this small, narrow island has been the home of saints, kings, Viking princesses, bishops, farmers and lairds, and it continues to attract an infinite assortment of people to its shores.
Lismore takes its name from the Gaeilc Lios Mor, meaning ‘Great Garden’, and true to its name it is a fertile, lush place swathed in wildflowers in summer and home to deer, sea eagles and otters – as well as more common varieties of sheep, chickens and cows. It is undeniably beautiful, but it can be a lonely place to live, and, physically cut off from the mainland by water, last year we were also cut off from each other, from family, friends and community. Like most people, I started spending more time online.
How real are communities built online? I don’t really know, but during the past twelve months, when all communities have been fundamentally changed, I’ve become more and more grateful for the online groups I’m part of: they have been a stable, positive force of joy, inspiration, discussion, learning, pride, despair and hope.
Some have been local and small: I was part of a photography project called 100 Visible Women with a local artist and I chaired (or tried to!) our school Parent Council via Facebook messenger. Some have been global and much bigger: I started following NYT Cooking on Instagram after falling a little bit in love with Sam Sifton’s food column and participated in some cook alongs, and joined the hashtag sour dough movement, with varying degrees of success, until my husband sat me down and said “please, just throw that stinky little pot away.” (I did, and I’ve never felt so free!)
Of course, most of what I do online revolves around soap, and I don’t think my business would have evolved in the same way with out the women, men and groups whose blogs, Instagram and FB accounts I follow. Last year I saw businesses grow and people thrive, and all types of communities pull together to find a way through the year of immense upheaval that was 2020. This gave me hope that I could also grow and thrive, as a person, as a mother, as a new business owner, as a member of my island community, as part of something that was bigger than myself.
All my groups got me talking, doing and kept me motivated and accountable, off line.
As I sit here in the morning dark, I’ve just completed a two-week block of 6 am fitness and
meditation classes via Zoom. When saying our goodbyes, every single person offered thanks, not for being fitter or calmer, but for all the people in our new community of early risers. My aim for 2021 is to participate in and explore more fully the online groups I’m part of, and I’m going to try and do that, partly, by writing about my own journey. I want to try and give back some of what I found, when I needed a sense of community, in all the people putting themselves out there, showing their optimism, their courage and their faith online.
What will you do, in 2021? Anything is possible.