Fellows Guest Blog: Jillian Read & the Radical Act of Trying

Jillian Read is a writer, communications strategist, impressive person and member of the 2018 RADIUS Fellows

Photos by Matt Hanns Schroeter

I would not say I’ve gone through my life feeling like an overly impressive person. Sure, there have been moments: like when Evan P.* gave me a Star Wars-themed Valentine’s Day card in early 2000; or when I successfully convinced a group of approximately 15 people that I was “down with it” by carrying a single, capped peach cooler around the only high school party I was ever invited to; or when I began cuffing my jeans.

But, last year, I felt truly unimpressive. And it all came down to my bed. You see, I was (and, regrettably, still am) living in my childhood bunk bed, which was (and, perhaps more regrettably still, is) fitted with Winnie the Pooh sheets.

Before you race over to my RADIUS profile, yes, I am an adult woman (allegedly). But, in 2017, I was also more sick than I’d ever been. My Crohn’s Disease, which had been kicking me in the large intestine since late 2009, decided to go for a full body slam this past summer. I was living in Scotland at the time, and I spent the first week of July planning an E.T.-style escape from the Gastroenterology Ward of Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital (fortunately for one and all, my plan never came to fruition).

A pre-planned trip back to Vancouver four days after my hospital release made me realize that I needed to be home. So, I moved. Away from my sister and the green-walled flat that we’d shared for nearly two years; away from the job that I loved so much (so much) that I worry I’ll never fully recover from leaving it; away from the person who I was and could have been if I’d stayed. I moved…back into my childhood bedroom.

And that’s about the time that I came across RADIUS.

When I applied for the Fellowship, I did not feel like a “top emerging social innovator,” or a “radical doer,” or a “change-maker.” I felt like a squeezed-out tube of toothpaste. But, people kept asking me how I was doing. And it hurt to see them look away when I answered honestly. So, I climbed out of my bunk bed and slid onto the couch and opened the application form. I answered questions about where I hoped to be in five years at a time when I wasn’t sure how I’d feel in five minutes. I applied.

Of course, when I received an e-mail thanking me for my application and offering me an interview slot, I assumed that RADIUS had accidentally sent me the interview invitation for an infinitely more impressive person named “Julian Red” (who was, I’m sure, at that very moment, single-handedly solving the affordable housing crisis while also probably shepherding a family of ducks across the highway or whatever it is that “radical doers” spend their time doing).
If that was the case, 1) I’m sorry, Julian Red, and 2) RADIUS was incredibly good about it, because they didn’t escort me out of the interview room upon my entry, and they did, in fact, invite me to join this year’s Fellowship. So, now, I — a semi-professional Sick Person, an underemployed Millennial, and an adult bunk-bed-dweller — am also a RADIUS Fellow.

This means that, every week, I get to share oxygen with fifteen other people who I find endlessly interesting. We talk about the problems facing our community in a room constructed almost entirely out of whiteboards. We learn about how to be better leaders and listeners. We share food and connections and project ideas. We show up and try to make our communities and our systems better. We try and we try and we try.

And RADIUS has taught me that trying is a radical act. To be a “change-maker” is to move through this world hoping and caring for ourselves and the communities in which we live. It means trying, even when the problems that we face seem as fixed and cage-like as my childhood bunkbed.

You know, maybe that’s why RADIUS asked me to be a Fellow. Because, at a time when I felt used up and sad and sorry for myself, I spent an entire Saturday afternoon writing out reasons why they should pick me. I dared to imagine myself as valuable within and because of my state of sickness. I tried. And that makes me feel pretty impressive.

To be clear, not Evan-P.-Valentine’s-Day-card-level impressive (as if I could ever reach such lofty heights again), but impressive nonetheless.

*Name has been changed to protect my decades-long crush and also my tender heart.