QOTD #4: Burning House

Question of the Day: Your house is burning, but all of your family and pets are out safely. But as the flames lick higher, you have time to go back in and save just one item. What item do you chose, and why?

My answer: My backpack, which is almost certainly packed with my laptop and my DSLR camera. Since I take my backpack anywhere, this is an obvious choice. Hey, at least it’s better than going back in and saving beer. (more…)

QOTD #3: Banding Together

Question of the Day: We all have that band or musical artist we go back to time and again. What is your favorite band or performing artist. If you can’t pick just one, feel free to list more. 

My answer: The David Crowder* Band. The uninitiated will not understand just how beautiful the combination of electronic rock and traditional instruments are to your ears and to your soul. Too bad they broke up in 2012. The 2012 apocalypse, duh! (more…)

Five Reasons You Should Do Your Writing Outdoors

“I’m changing,” I realized the other day as I was working on blog posts. I finally understood that the quality of my posts increased proportionally to how close to the outside world I was. I used to write all of my posts cooped up in my room, the only hint of natural light being the sunbeams that filtered through the two windows near my desk. But soon after I realized I was losing a bit of inspiration; the words were flowing less like a river and more like molasses. I decided a change of venue was in order, so I moved to one of the top floors of my university’s library. There, a large window allowed me to see the entire campus with an eagle eye, and I felt like I was so close to the outside word that I could touch it. I was content there, but then I finished the program. Where would I write now, now that the library is 50 miles away and no longer a viable option.

Realization then struck while I was out running some trails. If I was so close to nature I could touch it… why not actually touch it? I found another thing happening to me, this time much more subtle. I’m far more interested in pen-to-paper contact than ever before. I found myself writing my outlines in a long-abandoned journal before transcribing them into WordPress posts, including for this very blog post you’re reading now. Perhaps I’m becoming old-fashion, and that’s always a possibility. I’ve long since been tired of people proving themselves right by spouting “Google it!” Or perhaps I’m actually, for the first time ever, really writing. Regardless, here are five reasons you need to be writing outside.

1. You’re in a less sterile environment.

Now, normally sterilization is a good thing. It keeps the germs away and keeps people safe, if not a little bored. But it’s hard to go crazy surrounded by four walls, and when it comes to writing, a little craziness doesn’t hurt. Most of your inspiration when you’re outside comes from your eyes. A trail leading to the unknown on your left brings three-dimensional thinking due to the endless creative possibilities. The bird landing in the tree to your right inspires an important plot element in the short story you’re crafting. You see, when you introduce chaos into the mix, you go from being in a controlled laboratory setting to being in real life itself. Realism in writing is more than a simulation. It’s experience, which can only come from putting yourself out there.

2. You’re fortunate that it’s easier now than ever before.

What I mean by “easier” is that you have numerous options. Whether or not that translates to superior work is up for debate. In the old days, before my generation became the first to really be able to take advantage of ideal mobile computing, the only option people had was to go outside with a notebook or journal and write down everything they thought of. But now, walk around any college campus and you’ll find more Apples than an orchard. And the one I use to type my blogs, a 13-inch MacBook Air, has a battery life of around ten hours. Combine that with the overwhelming presence of wi-fi and, oh gosh, smartphones, and you’re carrying around on your hike more technology than the entirety of Johnson Space Center when they launched the Apollo missions.

Basically, that counts for a lot, as you can easily do all of your writing, editing, and publishing (with a few tweets mixed in for good measure) without ever setting foot inside a building.

3. You’ll find the outdoor air is stimulating and good for your health.

I don’t have any qualms with indoor activities. You’ll never see me spouting doomsday prophecies about video games and texting being the detriment of society. In fact, I argue that society is more educated today than ever before. Besides, I could not live without my daily video game fix. But I still go outside (sometimes to play video games on a handheld, strangely). Consider this Harvard newsletter article, which coincidently also takes the form of a five-point list. It lists the numerous advantages of spending time outdoors, including faster healing and less environmental depression.

“But it’s hot,” you say. Perhaps, but I suggest wearing bright colored clothing, finding a shady tree, and bringing the biggest refillable bottle of water you can find. Oh, and bring sunscreen if you scald like I do. Alternately, do your writing during my favorite time of the day, early evening. The temperature drops and you can write the stories of your life to some wicked sunsets.

4. You’re one step closer to new experiences.

Sometimes when you write outside, you’ll find yourself wanting to put your computer away and just live. This world we’ve been given, despite it seeming so small sometimes when we’re in our little boxes, is filled with wonder. Suddenly it seems conceivable to hike, swim, or even just lay in the grass and look at clouds. You write about it later, but at the moment it’s important to just live. The mini-vacation you get from simply letting life take hold will make your blog post, article, essay, journal entry, or whatever you’re writing ten times better.

5. You no longer need background music.

I have chronic tinnitus. If you don’t know, that means I have a constant ringing in my ears. I honestly haven’t experienced complete silence in probably a decade. For me, the only way to fight it is to always be listening to something else, be it music or ocean sounds or white noise. I used to think that was a curse, but now I’m not so sure. When I’m inside working with a computer, I’ll always have headphones on listing to my ambient or chill music. I find, though, that when I’m outside, writing a story or running the trails, that I no longer need the familiar hug of my headphones to my ears. The sounds of the birds chirping or the frogs croaking or the cicadas, um, making whatever sound cicadas make are my life’s soundtrack. It’s one long organic song, never to be duplicated in a thousand years.


QOTD #2: Deserted Island Movies

Question of the Day: You’re stranded on a deserted island with a TV, five movies, and five complete TV series. Which ones do you bring, and why?

My Answer: After thinking about this question, I’ve debated whether or not I’d want to bring the “best” TV show, or the longest. Also, would I want to bring the series and movies I love, or ones I’ve never seen before.

My movies:
1. Citizen Kane
I’m part of the crowd that considers this film one of the best of all time.
2. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
I know it’s technically three movies, but they are long. Long is good.
3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn
This film may be the best ever made, but I’m not sure because I don’t want to be biased as a Trek fan.
4. The Princess Bride
I’m going to need one of the best comedies ever made to keep me sane.
What is easily the best Pixar film needs to take the final slot.

My TV Show:
1. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Frankly, I consider this show the best one of all time, and I couldn’t imagine my life without it. You bet after about 30 years I’d eventually be able to quote every episode from memory.
2. The West Wing
The episodes are so dense, you’d need to watch each one like five times to “get” everything.
3. Gilmore Girls
What, don’t judge me.
4. Stargate SG-1
Mainly because it’s ten seasons of quality entertainment.
5. Friends
I wanted a show that fit three categories for my last pick.
– It needed to be long-running.
– It needed to be good.
– I needed to be something I haven’t seen.
Friends fits all three categories, despite its sit-com format not being my forte. (more…)

QOTD #1: What’s Your Favorite Competitive Cooking Show?

Question of the Day: What’s Your Favorite Competitive Cooking Show?

My Answer: Iron Chef America. I remember my mom and I used to watch ICA together back when it was airing primetime on Food Network. I loved Alton Brown’s smart commentary, and I loved that the show focused on the cooking, rather than the drama. Back then, my favorite iron chef was Bobby Flay, but now it’s the master himself, Masaharu Morimoto. He even makes the American Iron Chefs look like amateurs. The focus on the cooking makes it far more entertaining than shows like Chopped, Hell’s Kitchen, and Cutthroat Kitchen. (more…)

Thoughts You Have in an MRI Machine

By Matthew Estes

“This is what hell feels like,” I said to myself five minutes into being stuck in a small tube, my head being shot by radiation in every kind of way. Hell is literally being bolted into an MRI machine, told to lie perfectly still while your limbs fall asleep, and listening to wicked sounds that would grate the nerves of even the most avid dubstep aficionado.

And this is one of the better imaging facilities. It was an open MRI, so I know full well that my entire body wasn’t in all the way. And it was lighted so I wouldn’t feel closed in. The nurse, who was pleasant but business-like, as it should be, even gave me a pair of headphones and let me listen to low audio quality pop music, which somehow included a rather pleasant violin version of “A Thousand Years” by Christiana Perri. But I couldn’t sing along, because that would require movement, which only added to the torture.

The inside of the tube was a light grey, with a long strip of duct tape separating my line of sight bilaterally. I tried to pass the time by drawing designs in my mind that intersected each other across the tape meridian, but human memory is so fallible that every time I drew a dragon and his hoard of gold, I couldn’t remember it while I was trying to draw the adventurer with a bow and arrow on the other side. I was never really good at drawing anyway, so I just decided it was best to close my eyes.

At first, most of the sounds reminded me of laser battles from science fiction movies. I would imagine spaceships shooting at each other to the repetition of the noise, which was fun. I really thought I had something going, but the sounds quickly turned more towards machine gunfire, which for some reason did not amuse me the same way. The constant tingling in my chest every time the sounds came on didn’t help matters, as I couldn’t help but imagine getting littered with bullets.

Of course, then the anxiety kicked in. Last week I bought some honey roasted peanuts while on a road trip. But I was suddenly worried that I accidentally ate a small piece of metal from the packaging. The metal was stuck in my body, and going to react to the MRI, rupturing my internal organs and killing me from the inside. This is it. I’m going to die from accidentally eating a peanut wrapper in an MRI machine.

It was over in ‘only’ 37 minutes, and I somehow survived to write this article.

Turning Over a New Leaf

By Matthew Estes

Good morning Recollective, it’s Wednesday, June 1, 2016, and it’s time I turned over a new leaf. I have fought through grad school, and I have emerged victorious. The long-nights of writing, editing, re-writing, editing, re-re-writing, and then editing again are in the rear-view mirror. I can now explode into adulthood with a Master’s degree and the omnipresent sensation that I forgot to write a 50-page paper somewhere down the line. However, a quick glance at my transcript reveals that I am, indeed, finished. School is Concluded. Resolved. Consummated.

But that begs a very important question: what is life? Or, perhaps more accurately, now what? I’ve spent every year of my life since I was six years old with school as my full time job. Sure, I’ve had a summer here or there off, but only one since I started college. Regardless, I was still working on “school stuff” most of the time. Things like Summer reading, and learning important writing and technical skills for my classes. Despite my scholastic strategy always being more “fly by the seat of your pants” than most of my peers, I was always a good student. I just had my own methods of doing things as a life-long creative nonconformist. And despite the fact that some of my schoolwork stressed me out to the point of literally being sick, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the research and carving my own little alcove into the world of communication research.

If you want to see the nearly 100-page document that has so consumed the last few months of my life to the point of nearly abandoning this blog, here’s my thesis. Think of it as a really, really long blog post that isn’t really practical to you life and is kind of hard to understand. Still, it’s the biggest bargaining chip I have, and I very much hope it’s worth it.

Now I find my full-time job to suddenly be, well, finding a full-time job. As imposing of a task as that may seem in this economy, for some reason I don’t find it nearly as scary as composing a thesis. I have a sense of peace about my transposition from the education portion of my life to the career portion of my life. Besides, if I play my cards correctly, I won’t even have to leave the university setting. Instead, I can become a full-staffer at a college.

I do know one thing, though. Creative projects are the most important things in my life that don’t involve relationships with loved ones. Therefore, this blog is not going away, and I solemnly swear to never fall off the face of the Earth for months at a time again. I know a few more things about branding now, and I really feel that with the extra time I have to write, I can really make something out of Mars Gone Mad. So, a big thank you to my core set of readers. May you all accompany me through a lifetime of putting the words of my heart onto whatever medium is a available.

Tomorrow, I’m going to be talking about some of the changes that are taking place around these parts, even if these parts consist merely of binary data being transmitted to you in electronic form.


We Are All Slightly Agnostic

By Matthew Estes

Back in high school and early, early college, I was a proud member of my church’s youth group for around six years. Every Monday night, a small group of youth members, young adults, and our youth minister would get together in someone’s living room for a Bible study. There we’d go page by page over our selected book of choice, delivering our interpretations of scripture which mostly consisted of rehashing of what our youth minister (who shall henceforth by dubbed “Carl”) said. Of the group, I was likely the most committed, and yet I never really fit into the conversations completely, likely because I was unwilling to conceal my doubts and fears. Put simply, my heart was (and still sometimes is) a battleground between the faith I knew in God and my fears of dying into the waiting arms of oblivion.

Well, after years of poking the topic with a stick, one day I gathered up the courage to say it after reading a particularly dispiriting Bible verse. “Carl,” I hesitated, then spoke with boldness, “I know that this is true, but sometimes I worry that it’s all not real, and that I’m going to die and simply cease to exist.”

His reply, though, was six words that truly shook me.

“You may very well be right.”

I needed some kind of proof or reassurance that what I had invested so much time and faith in what worthwhile and fulfilling, and that life was more than just a cruel, pointless joke played by the universe. What I got instead was a direct confrontation of my deepest darkest fears. As angry as I was at Carl… as much as I wanted to leave and never come back to another Bible study with this church ever, he was correct. And in a way, he was acknowledging what I always suspected: that even the most ardent, dogmatic, or faithful person cannot know with complete certainty that what he or she believes is true.

You can only be 99.99% certain.

Even the pastor who has seen healings take place before his very eyes can only be 99.99% certain.
Even the student 17 rows up witnessing God’s revival at a conference can only be 99.99% certain.
Even the missionary who sees the smile on a young boy’s face as you give him food can only be 99.99% certain.

Even me, who has himself witnessed the miracle of God healing my back, can only be 99.99% certain.

According to the AP Stylebook, which is the (lowercase) bible for journalists and PR professionals, an agnostic is a person who believes it is impossible to know whether there is a God.

By definition, that makes everyone at least slightly agnostic. But there is a word, a beautiful five letter word, that on most days makes that uncertainty more than okay… faith. Faith “is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

The Gamble

Imagine this highly improbably scenario: a woman comes up to you with an envelope. She tells you that inside the envelope is a number between one and 10,000. You can pick a number, any number, between one and 10,000, and as long as you pick any other number than the one in the envelope, you’ll be given a million dollars. However, if you pick the number in the envelope, you’ll be shot dead right there on the spot. Yikes.

You have a 99.99% chance of walking away rich. For a million dollars, I’d do it without a moment’s hesitation. Heck, I’d probably do it for $100,000. You probably would too.

That doesn’t make it smart. Offer the same deal to a baseball stadium full of people, and five people aren’t going home to their families that night. But each one will wholeheartedly have faith in both chance and money. Yet, faith in God is even stronger stuff.

I know I’ve been saved. I remember the day, the time, the location, the weather, the emotions I felt when I asked to be saved. I’ve seen God work miracles in my life and the lives of my friends. I’ve seen people find God and completely turn around their nature and their lives. He has answered my prayers. And yet, the ground pulls at my feet. The 00.01% of me that still thinks that death is the end of my story sometimes has enough mass to eclipse the light of the Son. That is my spiritual battle; it can be fought, but not vanquished until the day I enter the gates of Heaven.

Agnosticism is not a religion. It’s just a name given to a question people have pondered since the beginning. We just like giving it other names, like doubt, stumbling, or skepticism. And if you think it would have been easier to believe if we were living in biblical times, keep in mind that Peter denied Christ on the day of his crucifixion, and Thomas needed to see and feel the scars of the resurrected Jesus.

You can look for that 100% assurance all you want to. You can search the world over, read the Bible and every commentary on it, and pray six hours a day, and still you will never find it. But with every loving act of kindness, every fellowship with close friends, and every intimate prayer to God, you can add another nine. And on the day your time on Earth finally ends, you can come home confident that the Savior will be waiting with open arms.