A Sense of What’s Possible

Ella Morton

A Sense of What’s Possible

  • Words Jacqueline Raposo
  • Featured Photograph Martin Rietze
A Sense of What’s Possible

A Sense of
What’s Possible

“Before I moved to New York, I made a list of what I wanted to do,” says Ella Morton. “A list of everything true to who I wanted to be, and of who I already was.”

Ella was twenty-five at the time, and wholly miserable. New Zealand-born and raised in Australia, she was incredibly smart but lacking in confidence. She had dropped out of university, and been working for several years as a production assistant at a tech company, passing nights and weekends entirely alone. Fear paralyzed her from even attempting a career in the arts. But as time passed, she couldn’t ignore her continually growing hunger for a community of creative people. She felt a bold aesthetic gnawing within her, too, and yearned to stop compromising the homosexuality she had repressed for fear of what others might think.




Ella craved a new start.

She knew skipping countries without a degree during a recession carried enormous risk. But she let herself be pulled forward by inspiration from her past.

“In Waitomo, New Zealand, you get put in this boat and float in this subterranean river, and on the ceiling, you see thousands of bioluminescent fungus gnats in their larval stage” she describes. “There’s this blackness, and then these luminous bluish dots everywhere. The feeling is magical: a hushed reverie comes over everyone. That feeling stuck with me. It made me want to have more experiences like that or to create those experiences for people.”








A Sense of What’s Possible
A Sense of What’s Possible

She made the bold move to New York.

Now, as the editor of Atlas Obscura – a website featuring things “hidden and surprising that inspire a sense of wonder” – and one of three authors of the book of the same name, Ella seeks out more stories that offer a shift in perspective.

A day in the New York Public Library had her poring over examples of “library hand” — the hand-written cards that cataloged books for centuries before electronic indexing came into play — and documents from the conference where the national handwriting style for the cards was crafted. “It was so interesting to read the transcript,” she says, “where they’re talking about if they should have separate reference rooms for women or asking, ‘What does the term bookworm mean? I’m a little insulted by it!’ ”

Readers responded by sharing examples from their local libraries – part of the “selfless, joyous approach” of those whose curiosity matches hers.  Collectively, they itch to know what was going on in Melville Dewey’s mind when he created the Dewey Decimal System. Or the thought process that inspired a Philadelphia man to fill a giant crack in a sidewalk with sprinkles. “I get a real sense of joy out of bringing these stories to people, and I love reading about creative humans,” she beams.


Now, Ella moves through the world a woman transformed, comfortable in her skin, and seeking out new experiences to spin into stories. She hopes her discoveries inspire readers to make brave choices in their lives, too.

“A lot of people, myself included, are afraid of being hurt. Or they’re afraid of their minds being changed in a way that won’t allow them to go back to the life that they were living before. That’s scary, and it’s vulnerable,” she says of experiencing other parts of the world and other cultures. She knows big exploration carries the potential for even bigger heartbreak. That the more risk you take, the more you risk to lose. “But it also means you’re living, that you’re a human being, and that you’re exposed to the full spectrum of humanity. And that’s what life is about,” she concludes. “It’s about not being afraid to be open.”

Connect with Ella

Ella Morton Portrait Captured by Michelle Enemark
Waitomo Glowworm Cave Captured by Martin Rietze
Gates of Hell Captured by Tim Whitby


A Sense of What’s Possible

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