Below is a personal bio I wrote about myself and emailed on April 10, 2014. It tells about who I am, where I come from, and why I love Shop Local + Rochester, NY.
Nothing about me, Barbara Ellen, has been, is, or ever will be typical. With a name like Barbara Ellen, born in the mid-80’s when everyone else had pretty-girl-names like Stephanie or Christina, how can you? Add tightly wound curls, bunions (yes…developed early on), a voice that lisps and that knows no decibel limit, add all of this to a young girl, from the hood, who attends Catholic school, and what do you have?
You have a dreamer. You have an innovator. You have a doer. You have an old soul with fresh vision. What you have what is not so typical. I am not your typical Barbara Ellen.
Where I Have Seen
I grew up in the Beachwood Neighborhood of Rochester, NY. The first decade of my life I played kickball in the street and 500 with the big boys, got bullied by the big girls, pretended to play school during the sweltering summer heat, made whirl-pools in plastic pools that collapsed, dreaded every single second of the Catholic school I walked to and from each and everyday since Kindergarten, and, when old enough, I waked, proudly, around the corner, to a tiny store on Culver then named Romano’s though there no more, and, with the rest of the city kids, I saved pennies and quarters to buy pizza by the slices. I loved living on Hazelwood Terrace in the city of Rochester. It’s my forever badge. But I hated that, until we moved into the public school system, I never knew I was smart. I never knew I was smart until, at Iroquois Middle School in West Irondequoit, in the middle of the 5th grade, I never knew I was smart until the meanest teacher told me I was smart. In 6th grade, when middle school ended, I never received the President’s Award because I didn’t take the proper state exams while attending Catholic School, and when everyone else received the Principal’s Award, I didn’t because my grades far surpassed the standards. By 7, I knew ignorance. By 12, I understood injustice. Everything I’ve done since has combatted both.
Advocacy and empowerment. I analyzed English Literature in undergrad at the University of Pittsburgh and Irish Literature while studying abroad at University College Cork in Ireland. I studied pedagogy, multicultural, and special education while obtaining my Master’s at Teachers College, Columbia and finally Nazareth College of Rochester, from whence I graduated in 2010 (sic). [Clarification: Master’s Coursework studied at TC: 1 semester completed. Graduated from Naz.] Am I a professional writer? Not yet… Am I a classroom teacher? Absolutely not. Even when they should, advocacy and empowerment don’t always follow professions. Advocacy and empowerment do follow vision. Advocacy and empowerment follow action. When I found teaching unjust, I left. When I found banking lucrative though corrupt, I left (as quick as I could). As an educator who is also a writer with a keen business sense, I now work for the NYS Department of Labor in conjunction with the non-profit RochesterWorks. Truly, I help Rochester—all of Rochester–get back to work. As a writer for my blog Barbara Ellen Shops Local, I turn consumerism into activism.
What I Foresee
The Shop Local Campaign in Rochester, NY is sustainability. Shop Local is sustainable for entrepreneurs. Shop Local is sustainable for community development. Shop Local is sustainable for cultural identity. Shop Local is sustainable for individual budgets. Shop Local is sustainable because it preservers local talent and nurtures sustained growth. As initiator of the Shop Local Campaign in Rochester, NY, I will make sustainable our cultural identity and economy by turning consumerism into activism.
According to Go Buy Rochester, an equaTEK Interactive initiative and online Shop Local oasis for Rochester, The Multiplier Effect reveals that, “every dollar spent with a locally owned merchant has three times the impact of a dollar spent at a big box store.” With The Shop Local Campaign, I help Rochester make shopping local a daily lifestyle. By promoting, marketing, interviewing, and providing links to local Rochester business owners, artisans, publications, and bloggers, I connect our community of Rochester to the everyday ways we can realize our city. Shopping is a highly personal construct. The Shop Local Campaign shifts engrained ideas and practices to empower Rochesterians to make convenient, affordable, unique choices they otherwise would have ignored due to habit. Not due to money or choice or critical consciousness. Due to habit. Habit is changeable. Critical consciousness is essential. Empowering Rochester means advocating for Rochester. Through the Shop Local Campaign, this is what I do for the city that has given me and continues to give so much.
This is what I’ve always done. I just do it in a Not So Typical Way.
Where I Will Be
On January 1, 2006, New Years Day, I left America to start a new life—a study abroad life—in Ireland. Cork, Ireland. Alone. I left by myself, boarded a plane, traveled to Europe, rode a bus with several other American students, many of who already knew each other from college or from home, and I—luggage lost—embarked upon this new journey. Alone. Eight years later, I’m still best friends with three of the most amazing women I’ll ever meet. While we bonded almost immediately, traveling to live and study abroad in Ireland, by myself, is one of the bravest moves I will make.
And still, it compares nothing to the culture shock I experienced upon moving from the city of Rochester to the suburbs of West Irondequoit before I started the 5th grade. Nothing.
Suburban life has never been much for me. Dodging the social circles of soccer moms and dads and relishing their trailer that sits in a trailer park along the shores of Lake Ontario with a bunch of other trailers: I don’t think suburban life is much for my parents either. Unconventional. This is the fiber of my genes. I have grown up in a unconventional family. I will always live an unconventional life. Not to be different. Not to be separate. But because—understanding, analyzing, questioning–I am in constant conversation with society. While I relish and almost worship a routine, I cannot stand to be stationary within society.
I mentioned my parent’s trailer. Modest doesn’t begin to describe this small hunk of metal, which rests not even on wheels. A wooden deck built around the front that looks upon Lake Ontario is the grandest thing about it, and even these roots are humble. This trailer is minimal. If unconventional drives me, minimal sustains me.
No matter the success I reach, I will always live minimally and consciously. Sustainably. A micro-home on a flatbed that travels the US. Well-made, locally crafted and/or sourced clothing and food and household items: only those I need. These are my material dreams. From Pittsburgh to Cork, Ireland to Manhattan to Rochester, of the myriad of apartments and spaces I’ve lived in, the studios have always suited me best. A 5th floor walk-up on the Upper West Side of New York with 1 open room for kitchen, bedroom, living room, and office or its equivalent in Rochester, where I live off of Park Ave. For me, meaning and consciousness in smallness is true luxury.
Five to 10 years from now? Home ownership—convention—is not the goal. Five to 10 years from now? My goal is to influence my community and my city that have given me so much. Five to 10 years from now? Shop Local is already a way of life for most of Rochester and the Greater Area. Five to 10 years from now? I’m a published writer. Local and national and, once the memoir comes out, internationally.
Beyond 10 years from now? This is almost easier for me. Beyond 10 years from now, my life’s work, will be advocating. For mental health. For mental health rights. For a voice in the mental health world. Beyond 10 years from now, I will be purveying sustainability and shop local, and I will be changing the face of how society perceives mental health in this country. Probably other countries. The only thing that’s not changed about me? Unconventionality.
There is no other way I want to be or dream.
Now, Rochester, you know even more about me. Barbara Ellen. The Real Barbara Ellen.
I am an advocate. I work hard to create spaces where everyone has voice. I work hard to empower everyone to exercise this voice.
I do not have a boyfriend. I do not have a husband. I do not have children. I do not have pets. I do not have a best friend.
I have my writing. I have Rochester, NY. I have Shop Local. And that is all.