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My Life Before Social Media: A Short Film


The Annex in Newport, RI

In Newport, RI? Spend your Saturday, November 6 a little differently—come down to Annex Comics & Cards at 314 Broadway for Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole—Tales from Haunted Disney World signing.

This runs during their month-long MASSIVE WALL OF HALLOWEEN MASKS exhibit!

Here’s some pretty cool pix from the displays Wayne has up in his store; at the end of this post, I’ve posted several of Wayne’s pix so you can see the whole shebang.

My mask.

My mask on a model. Photo: Wayne Quackenbush

My mask on a model Facebook Post!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

3 p.m. – 6 p.m.


Annex! Comics

314 Broadway

Newport, RI 02840


The Annex has a massive and diverse selection of comics, still has an area at which you can rent Japanese horror films, and hosts Zombie Fridays as well as 12-and 24-hour comic-drawing marathons. Learn more at or find them on Facebook to stay in the loop, and see you there!

Photo by Wayne Quackenbush

Photo by Wayne Quackenbush

Photo by Wayne Quackenbush

Photo by Wayne Quackenbush

Photo by Wayne Quackenbush

Photo by Wayne Quackenbush

Photo by Wayne Quackenbush

Photo by Wayne Quackenbush

Photo by Wayne Quackenbush

Photo by Wayne Quackenbush

Photo by Wayne Quackenbush

Photo by Wayne Quackenbush

Photo by Wayne Quackenbush

Photo by Wayne Quackenbush


Me standing on Ellison's Rocks, looking up at the sheer drop and the Forty Steps on the Cliff Walk in Newport, RI. Photo by Melissa Martin-Ellis,

A favorite short story is Jack Finney’s “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets.”[1] Plot: ambitious employee climbs out an eleventh-floor window to retrieve his career-boosting project notes.

It’s a fine study in story structure—character, conflict, crisis, change—and an even better examination of that second element, conflict. Specifically, inner conflict. Conflict that so often happens when, just as in a good short story, we are trying to make a crucial decision. When we are torn asunder and asking ourselves, ‘should I do this, or not?’

A couple of weekends ago I went to Newport, Rhode Island. I went to visit friends and to reconnect with a very special place: the famous Cliff Walk, which lately I’d been pining to see. I walked with Mark and Melissa and beheld the cerulean sky, the peacock ocean, the swirling aquamarine eddies, the jagged cliff sides composed mostly of metamorphic rock.[2]

We stopped at the head of Newport’s famous Forty Steps, which have been around for a couple of hundred years (although restored now—the originals were wood[3]) and was where servants from the Mansions met to hang out. The steps cut between Ellison’s Rocks and Conrad’s Cave[4]—places which, although a bit scary to reach, are navigable, and I’ve ventured to both in the past. It was high tide, though, so I couldn’t go to the cave (you can really only go to at low tide; during high, it’s like the pirate’s hole in Disney’s The Rescuers[5]). So I instead descended the steps and shimmied through a chasm in the outcropping to stand on Ellison’s Rocks. When I got to the bottom, I looked straight up.

Conrad's Cave. The entrance is toward the right of the photo. I wish I'd gotten a video of the water pouring in -- it's stunning. Photo by Melissa Martin-Ellis,

There were the steps, and the sheer cliff right beside it. The contrast struck me. I have some experience with rock climbing, and I remembered that when you’re going to rappel, it’s pretty intimidating to stand on that ledge and look down—it’ll be over quickly, but it induces vertigo. Even though the stairs take longer, the descent is less traumatic.

But either one will get a person to the same spot.

Melissa gave me a few older postcards of Newport; she told me when they were dated, but I forgot. Anyway, here's what the cliffs look like.

The Forty Steps. Photo by Melissa Martin-Ellis,

I put inner conflict over making a critical decision in this context. When we face that giant leap and contemplate a net-free plunge, it can be a long way down, baby. When we, however, break that conflict into smaller formations and conquer each one at a time, it may take longer, but it’s less overwhelming. And the outcome is the same.

One of the most interesting lines in “Contents” comes at a moment just after Tom has set his feet on the window ledge, when he’s “eleven stories above the street, staring into his own lighted apartment, odd and different-seeming now.”[6] It occurred to me that after the conflict has been resolved and we’ve lived with the decision for a little while, we often look back on it and realize we’ve made the right choice. That the alternate life we could have led somehow looks odd.

And we may even forget why we thought the decision was so difficult to make in the first place.

A view of the shoreline. Photo by Melissa Martin-Ellis,

[1] You can read Jack Finney’s “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets” here–it does have a couple of MINOR typos–nothing significant enough to mess up the piece (yes, I did a line-by-line check)–but it’s free :

[2] This reference is from the Newport Comprehensive Land Use Plan, published by the City of Newport in–I’m making an assumption from the link–2005. Unfortunately, although there is a link to the PDF online, there really isn’t any publishing information. If you’d like to read the report—which is excellent in terms of wanting to know everything about Newport’s history, cultural, ecological, and geological resources—you can either click here (the PDF is posted directly on my site): comp_landuse_05 or visit this link:

The information I’ve cited appears on page 1.

[3] Linda S. Manning, “An Amazing Stroll through Time…Walking the Walk…The Cliff Walk,” Rhode Island Roads: The Online Magazine of Travel, Life, Dining, and Entertainment for People Who Love Rhode Island,

[4] Ibid.

[5] For more information about The Rescuers, visit

[6] Jack Finney, “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets,” in Adventures in Appreciation Annotated Teacher’s Edition, ed. Judy Allen-Newberry, Anthony J. Buckley and Richard Tuerk (Orlando, San Diego, Chicago and Dallas: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989), 102.

Another old postcard, this of a common scene off the Cliff Walk or Ocean Drive.

About Melissa Martin-Ellis

Melissa Martin-Ellis is an illustrator, writer and photographer, and Vice President and Creative Director of Millennial Publications. Her artwork and writing have been featured in numerous New England exhibits and galleries, as well as in print media such as the Redwood Review, Newport This Week, Newport Life Magazine, The Boston Globe, Horseman’s Yankee Peddler, The Newport Round Table Anthology and Balancing The Tides.

She is the author of three nonfiction books, The Everything Guide to Writing Graphic Novels, The Everything Photography Book and The Everything Ghost Hunting Book for Adams Media. She the co-moderator of the Newport Round Table Writers’ Group in Newport, Rhode Island. She is currently working on a graphic novel project about the disappearance of the honeybee and collaborating with her husband, author Mark Ellis, on a paranormal thriller novel.

You can check out her stunning photos of Newport at


A dear friend and excellent poet, Chris Emmerson-Pace, pointed out that fire is a recurring element in much of my fiction. I hadn’t recognized that until he said it—it was 2004, and at the time, I’d written several stories that utilized fire: “Burning Origami,” “The Bitching Bench,” and an unpublished novella, Bad Apple, among them. He noted that my subconscious obsession with fire was probably symbolic of something I was trying to work out in my head; that, more than likely, whenever I had resolved whatever it was, fire would take a back seat.

Fast forward to 2010, and this hasn’t happened. In fact, fire has shown up in several more stories over the years: “Candle Garden,” “Matchbox,” “Confetti,” “Synecdoche,” “Jingle Shells,” and “Screams of Autumn.” While, yes, I’ve explored other motifs and featured other things (ants comes to mind), I still consider this significant. So what is it about fire that’s so damn compelling?

The answer would come on Halloween in 2009, but I didn’t figure it out until recently.

I’d gone to Newport, Rhode Island, for a signing of The Everything Ghost Hunting Book, and to hang out with some friends from college, which is a once-a-month thing. They lit the usual bonfire in the back yard and we settled in for the stimulating hours of conversation about all things interesting.

Heather and John had just finished divesting themselves of junk: at least a dumpster’s worth, as I recall. Somewhere between the second and third bottle of red wine, John brought out a wrinkled garbage bag. He opened it up and took out a wooden horse and a wooden unicorn, both on wheels. They had belonged to their daughter (who was in bed), and their fates had been sealed.

“I’m sick of those friggin’ things being around,” Heather said.

“Why didn’t you just chuck ’em?” I asked, which was a stupid question, considering I know John never throws away anything that he can burn.

John lit up a cigarette. “I know you like to burn shit, so I saved ’em ’til you got here. I figured this’d be a cool activity on a Friday night.”

The doomed toys.

I didn’t take offense to him commenting on my own pyromaniacal tendencies (I have a party every winter at which my friends and I burn our rejection slips). And I wasn’t shocked we were going to burn children’s toys. In fact, it was going to be a thrill to burn something other than empty pizza boxes and beer pods. We actually did a small ritual, took some photos, and torched the things.

But they took a long time to burn.

“They’re like symbols. It’s kinda freaky, because they represent the past,” John said, watching as the horse’s yarn mane burst into flame.

If you look closely, you can see the horse's mane burning.

I’ve heard that “the definition of insanity is repeating the same negative behavior or pattern of the past, expecting better results each time it’s tried.” With that in mind, I’ve spent my life identifying patterns and behaviors that lead to disastrous situations and making sure I never repeated them—I’m hyper-aware of my past. But what happens when something feels like it’s the start of the same old pattern, but it takes an unexpected shift? Or we want to once again attempt something we previously failed, but we’ve certainly got more resources now than we did then—we’re older and wiser, so to speak? Conversely, what happens when every nerve in our bodies screams for something and it’s the right time to do it, but because it looks suspiciously similar to something that singed us in the past, we don’t? What opportunities might we miss?

As we watched the horse, and then the unicorn, ignite and send a hail of sparks into the night sky, it occurred to me that sometimes, the danger is in not taking the plunge out of fear the past will repeat itself. That sometimes we have to trust our instincts and let it go.

It’s also interesting to note that my latest story doesn’t have any fire in it at all.

It features water instead.

A toy's last moments.

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