Category Archives: Personal

True Birthday Wishes

It’s that time of year when my loved ones remind me just how little they know about me: my birthday. “What do you want for your birthday?” they ask. “How could you not know?” I respond. It’s obvious! I want this book, or that gadget, or a new piece of cookware, or whatever. Except I don’t. I don’t really want those things at all.

I’ve somehow reached that age where things that I truly want can’t be purchased in a store—or if they can, I usually just buy them for myself.

So in honor of Monday’s birthiversary, here is a list of the things I really want, but probably can’t ask for and almost certainly won’t get.

  • All the laundry to be clean, folded, and put away.
  • An empty Instapaper queue, with all of my articles saved in a tidy, organized mélange of Pinboard, Evernote, and DevonThink.
  • A CMS with the flexibility of WordPress, the stability of static pages/jekyll/Octopress, and the social community of Tumblr.
  • More time alone with my wife
  • More time together with our friends
  • More time by myself
  • Spend more within our means
  • To not worry about my kids, to know that they’ll be alright, today, tomorrow, and forever after
  • The Presidential election to be over
  • My kids to be nicer to each other
  • Liberty and justice for all
  • To be an early-riser—the kind of person who easily wakes up two hours before anyone else in the house and uses that time to write or work-out or catch up on whatever
  • Either a shorter list of books to-read or the time to devote to enjoying them
  • Silence
  • Joyous noise

I could probably go on, but it feels a little silly. It is, after all, kind of a silly birthday list, more to-dos than things. Come to think of it, maybe that’s the gift I’ll give myself: this list of things to do and strive for in my 39th year.


Marriage, like anything worth having in life, takes work and luck and patience and forgiveness and more luck and, if you believe in that sort of thing, more than a little grace.

It’s a life’s work and it’s never perfect, except for the times when it is, hopefully more often than not. Marriage is like parenting is like life: magnificent/difficult/wonderful/horrible/sanctifying. Our very presence in each other’s lives helps us strive to be the best versions of ourselves.

I believe it should be available to everyone, but that’s probably a different post.

I am so thankful for the circumstances that put her and I on the same path.

Here’s to the next ten years, and the decades after that.

Observations from a Series of Snowbound Days

  • We go through a lot of maple syrup
  • All else being equal, my children’s default state is “fighting”
  • Every morning, the fucking city plows another foot of snow onto the apron of my driveway and crushes my will to live
  • Podcasts are more enjoyable while commuting
  • We are filthy people
  • There is, in fact, a limit to how much coffee I can drink
  • Time, it turns out, is not the issue; it’s attention
  • Everything that happens in The Shining makes much more sense to me now

The lesson.

It doesn’t matter how old you are. It doesn’t matter what other people tell you.

If you can find some courage (in yourself) and some faith (in anything) and some perspective (it’s not that big a deal) and some kindness (always be the nicest person in the room) you can make things happen that will amaze people.

This is what I’ve learned from my mother. Not just in the past month, but my whole life. There’s a reason my people pay attention to “Auntie Kay.”

Do bookstores matter?

For years—perhaps decades—my dad would walk to the flagship Kroch’s and Brentano’s store on South Wabash on Chicago, spending his lunch hour among the famously knowledgeable booksellers and the then-amazing array of inventory. I only remember being in that downtown store once or twice, but the mall Kroch’s and Brentano’s in the town where I grew up was a key setting in my childhood love of reading.

We went to the mall almost every night. If I wasn’t scanning the skies for Soviet bombers or taping Top 40 songs off the boombox, I was likely one of three places: the Sears arcade, the mall food court, or the little mall bookstores.

My parents would buy McDonald’s coffee and smoke in the food court, while I would itch for the trip to Kroch’s and Brentano’s or B. Dalton to check for a new Choose Your Own Adventure, Be An Interplanetary Spy, Star Wars, or Dragonlance books.

It was part of every trip to the mall, usually Dalton’s first; then Kroch’s. In Kroch’s, I would stand in the role-playing game aisle while my dad went on his appointed rounds through the store. That is where I fell in love with Star Trek and the Dungeon Master Guide. It’s where I first tried to pronounce the name Cthulthu, and where I discovered the existence of dice with more than six sides.

When I was old enough to start braving the mall on my own, it was always Kroch’s and Brentano’s where I would meet up with my parents after my private adventures at Kaleidoscope or Babbage’s or Musicland.

Today I still have occasion to go to that same mall every once in awhile. Those stores are gone, but a large Barnes and Noble—ten times larger and a thousand times “nicer” than either of those relics—is an anchor store at one end of the mall. I go there with my own wife and children, and we too always seem to end up meeting at the bookstore; however, I almost never buy anything other than a cup of incorrectly prepared coffee.

From a retail standpoint, the old mall bookstores were not Super Destinations for a book lover in the way that Barnes & Noble or Border’s have tried to be. But they were destinations just the same.

Turns out it is the books, not the store that create the destination. And as the chains have relied more and more on straight-up recommendations from Ingram reps or whoever waters down the New & Notable table to the lowest common denominator, they have lost sight of that which always made their stores most interesting: the discovery of new and intriguing works.

Today my book purchases almost always happen over the Internet or via my Kindle’s WhisperSync. My own experience of that joy of discovery has been left to scans of blog posts, friends’ recommendations, Twitter crowdsourcing or a monthly ritual with Locus magazine.

With this news that Borders is closing 200 Waldenbooks in malls nationwide, I remember again the little mall chains that paved the way for today’s failing superstores, preceding them both in lease and in failure.

I’m not smart enough to know what will save publishing, or the book trade, but I am wise enough to mourn the passing of bookstores that are actually about books and reading rather than a merchandising consultant’s platonic ideal of same.

Wandering a bookstore has been a Morrow-male tradition, a pastime well suited for the bookish, friendly, and affably antisocial men we seem to produce. We are comfortable with ideas, with solitude. Today, though, you’re more likely to find us wandering the intertubes than a bookstore.

Sometimes that makes me sad.

What are your bookstore memories?

Elsewhere: The death of mall bookstores and the death of publishing

Actually social media

Beloit Memories on Facebook.jpg

I attended a little liberal arts college in Wisconsin, where we well-off kids were dipped into a fantasy island of hippie liberalism in the middle of a devastated post-industrial blue-collar town. We had to stick together or intoxicate ourselves out of our minds to keep the consensual reality held together, and generally it worked pretty well.

I’ll assume there are plenty of inside jokes and camaraderie at your alma mater. But I had no idea what a funny little cult that Beloit College comprised until a few weeks ago, when someone created a wonderful variation on one of those horrible “give a rotting carcass to your friends” Facebook applications.

This thing exploded and just about every single status update I’ve seen on my wall for two weeks has consisted of my college friends sending random Beloit memories to each other. I’m sure it is driving non-Beloiters insane, but I can’t stop smiling for all the obscure memories evoked.

The best part to me is that it’s so different from all the plants and sweets and beers and other useless bullshit that people send me on FB, because it really is a memory that you give and receive.
Someone says to you, “yes it’s a cliche that we made a late-night run down the hill to Super Gas to buy smokes” [for under $2 a pack, I might add] “but I remember that time we went and that we used to call it Stop-and-Die.”

Or that “I remember going to dinner at Imperial Palace with you, because it was one of like three restaurants in town so we had no choice, but jesus we had some good times, hunh.”

This application tapped straight into the vein of what can make Facebook great. All of a sudden a bunch of reunited former friends and acquaintances get to gush and reminisce about all the stuff you never would have noticed without decades of perspective.

It reminded me of some really great times in my life, things and details that would have been buried with me, and allowed me to share them with the same people I first experienced them with.

Now that’s social media.

Make a museum

My daughter claims she wants to be an artist, and decided (all on her own) that she wanted to create a museum featuring her favorite "cruisers" (her word for art projects) that she had made in the past year.

So she went through the archives, selected a bunch of her favorites, and we decided to take the idea seriously. We all dressed for the occasion, hung the art in the living room, invited Grandma and Grandpa Morrow, served appetizers and champagne, etc.

It was a full weekend project, but we all had a blast.

She was so proud of herself.

Not to pat ourselves on the back, but here’s the thing I learned: if you have kids, and they are enthusiastic about something (anything), take the time and effort to really honor it.

It wasn’t convenient, and it wasn’t my first choice of how to spend last weekend, but it made my daughter absolutely shine with pride, and her interest in “being an artist” has grown even brighter.

And if you don’t have kids, what are you enthusiastic about? What can you make the time to honor for yourself? What’s your museum?

PS—I decided to try Animoto to make a quick montage of some of the pictures. It’s too short (you only get 30 seconds for free), but kinda nifty.

Seven Things

The seven things meme, as rendered by yours truly (@mikemorrow). Not really all that interesting—this is definitely harder than I thought, but I also didn’t want to spend too much time agonizing over what to say.

Stick around here long enough and you’ll get to know me better, I’m sure.

Not that I was asking for it (thanks @frageelay).

1. I have absolutely no fear of speaking in front of groups or crowds, but one-on-one conversations tend to paralyze me with anyone but my closest friends. Hence my fondness for Twitter.

2. I’m a Deadhead. As in, I used to go to shows and even still listen to the music Deadhead. As in, I just paid waaay too much money for tickets to the new Spring Tour Deadhead. Actually, I love improvisational music of all kinds.

3. At the same time I hold a deep love for really rigidly orchestrated, almost mathematical music. During the same peiod I was going to Dead shows, I also saw Rush in three cities in the same week. Rush! Pretty much the antithetical live experience to the Dead. I guess I love it all.

4. I am a direct descendent of Jeremiah Morrow, 9th Governor of Ohio, Ohio’s first member of the House of Representatives, and namesake of Morrow County. That’s where any connection to fame ends, though I did once have a conversation with Allen Ginsberg.

5. I turned down a job in 1996 from a start-up search engine that wanted to become a “human index” of the web. They were going to pay me to surf the web (such as it was then) and categorize the pages I found. Did I mention I TURNED THIS JOB DOWN? Although looking back it seems like the ideal dream job, that refusal started me on the direct path toward the job where I met my wife. I think the company was called C-Box? A quick Google turns up squat.

6. Speaking of The Mrs, my wife and I dated secretly for a year-and-a-half. We worked together at a tiny little consulting firm that required nearly every ounce of our being, and to keep things real we did everything we could to keep our relationship apart from that weird, weird place. I have a lot more to tell you about that job someday.

7. When I was an adolescent, my grandmother predicted that I would marry a woman named Jennifer—a fact which I completely forgot about until after I proposed to my wife, Jennifer.

And so it goes.