Tuesday, February 26, 2008

a good problem to have

You've heard of writer's block?

Well, these days I seem to have the opposite problem. Call it writer's backlog.

I always keep a file of "songs to write"... and that file has become a binder... and the binder is bulging...

People often ask "where do you get the ideas for songs," but for me right now the issue is how to carve out the time to write some of the songs that are waiting to be written... when I seem to be spending so much of my time on organizational stuff (which is also good and important), and in particular working at the small matter of increasing the odds of deriving adequate income for the work that I do (again, that question of what is "adequate" or "enough"...).

It is gratifying that after nearly 5 years of "doing what I do" without other employment (aside for the daily hour of barn chores, which continues to be welcome physical labour and some grocery money), it's happening more and more that others are coming to me with ideas and proposals for projects, rather than just the other way around. This is something that I've been encouraging - for instance, regularly inviting the household and congregational/institutional "members" of my SmallTall Music ministry to share their thoughts and ideas and needs for songs.

"What do we need to sing?" continues to be the question that I ask myself - and others - all the time.

Another source I look to that helps to set some of the songwriting agenda is the events and agenda of the "broader body" of the church. When I hear about the theme and Scripture focus of a particular gathering or conference - when it has been discerned by the "broader body" that this is a particular text that is important for us to wrestle with right now - that is enough "discernment" for me, and I take it as a cue to work with that Scripture and see what happens.

So the latest "delivery of songs" includes one based on Deuteronomy 4:1-9, the theme text of the upcoming "People's Summit For Faithful Living" in Winnipeg this summer, and another one based on Philippians 2:1-11 which has been chosen as the focus for the Mennonite World Conference Assembly in Paraguay in 2009.

Yesterday I sent off these and two other songs (and various accompanying resources) to be posted for the SmallTall Music members. This is now the 6th delivery that I've made in this system, and I'm glad that I'm getting to the point where the "nuts and bolts" of the delivery system take up less of my time and effort, leaving more (in theory at least) for the songwriting itself.

And as for that backlog of ideas - my own and those that have been/are being contributed by others - I always seem to say that I'll have more time once I get that mini-tour confirmed... or once that project proposal is done... or once that potential partnership is firmed up a little... or...

In any case, for now, it's a good problem to have.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

uncle carson

Many, many wonderful words spoken and sung yesterday among the apples and strawberries at Carson Moyer's funeral. "How can I keep from singing?" and the Ghanaian song "in your sickness, your sufferings, your trials and pains he is with you all the time"... the parable of the seed and the soil... John's remembrances of his father's "small footprint" on this earth in his care for the land ("Moyer's Garden Patch") and even choice of casket (no chemical finish, wooden pegs instead of metal fixtures)...

I was especially moved by John's reminder that "when you see someone whose "footprint" seems small, he may be doing the work of God."

Indeed, Uncle Carson. Thank you.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

offset this

For my trip to Winnipeg last week I bought “carbon offsets” for the first time. Through zerofootprint I invested in planting trees that will absorb an amount of carbon from the air that is apparently proportional to the carbon emissions caused by my flight (or, to be more precise, proportional to my share of the emissions - 0.4 tonnes of CO2 - caused by my flight). And after my carbon purchase (very easy to do - just a click on the link on my e-ticket from Air Canada) I got a very perky e-mail message in a huge yellow font saying “Congratulations, Bryan Suderman. Your flight is carbon neutral!”

So how much do you suppose it costs to buy “carbon offsets” for a return flight between Toronto and Winnipeg?

$50? That was Pieter’s guess.

$20-$25 or so? That’s what I was thinking.

How much was actually charged to my credit card?


Actually, it was $6.40, plus GST (Goods and Services Tax).

I find this surprising and rather disconcerting. I feel a bit like a repentant sinner, ready for some good old-fashioned penance, being “let off” too easy. Like a Wild West outlaw whose reward poster offers an embarrassingly low amount. Surely my transgression is more serious - is WORTH more - than that?

In fact, I’ll admit it, one of my immediate gut-level reactions was to think “Hey, that’s not so bad, maybe I can fly more than I thought...!”

hmmm... I don't think that's the way it's supposed to work... Romans 6:1-2 comes to mind...

Don't get me wrong. In spite of some misgivings and skepticism, I still think buying carbon offsets is a good thing to do. Maybe pricing it this low (zerofootprint pegs it at $16 per ton of carbon emissions) will help more people to take the plunge (and, as I discovered, it's really not much of a plunge. More of a dip - or maybe a sprinkle - in this case).

Considering that my $159 airfare (each way) included these charges added on...

- $9.34 for the post-9/11 "Canada Security Charge"
- $35 for a "Canada Airport Improvement Fee"
- $36 for "Navcan and Surcharges" (whatever that is)
- $23.90 GST
(Grand Total - $422.24)

... I don't see why a "carbon tax" - in this case, $6.72 - shouldn't just be LEGISLATED as one of the standard costs of travel anyway...

Now I'm not much for math, but if my calculations are correct - $16 to offset 1 ton of carbon emissions, 100 km of driving my car producing roughly 0.03 tons in emissions (according to zerofootprint's carbon calculator) - that comes to roughly $0.50 per 100 km of driving for carbon offsets. I think.

So, a question: since I track my performance-related mileage anyway, should I simply calculate the carbon emissions and offsets and pay it myself (as I will for other work-related and personal travel)? Or should I add a $0.50/100 km "carbon offset" charge as a standard cost that I include on my invoices and pass on to whoever is having me travel for a performance? Would that get a few more people thinking, I wonder...?

In any case, I'm not convinced that my flight was really as "carbon neutral" (and therefore, in perception at least, as benign) as the perky yellow font would have me believe. And it certainly doesn't absolve me from taking more significant steps to change my lifestyle and reduce my ecological footprint.

But I appreciate the encouragement. We have to start somewhere.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

old traditions... and a new one?

First weekend home in a while. Lots of good snow, no wind - a great day for some good winter fun with friends.

And on Thursday night Julie and I went out (that's right... a DATE just the two of us... doesn't happen often) and heard Martyn Joseph at Hugh's Room - a first-time and highly anticipated experience on both counts. Wonderful singer/songwriter/performer/person, lovely place, good food, delightful company... hmmm, I think I feel a new tradition coming on...