Archive for December, 2013

Progress Report #91

December 29, 2013

I’ve been working on my book Street Song for seven and a half years now. The question writers get asked most often, and that they dread the most is, “So when’re you gonna be done?” That’s hard to answer, but I thought I should let you know where things stand.

I don’t have a contract for the book yet. I’m currently in the process of putting together a package for my agent to show publishers. For nonfiction books, a typical package includes an outline, two sample chapters, and a few pages giving a broad overview of the work. My approach is slightly different. I’m working on three opening chapters, a chapter that describes my first days as a street singer, and then another chapter on my first days on the street as a homeless seeker. I have yet to create the final outline, although that shouldn’t be difficult. I’ve created so many preliminary outlines, and I know how this story goes. I lived it. The reason for three opening chapters is that the first two are extremely short. The third carries most of the weight of opening up the story. The two street chapters are essential to the tale, so I want to include them. I’ve finished chapters one and two, and I’m on track to finish the third by New Year’s Eve. I’ve done preliminary final drafts (can there be such a thing?) of the two “street” chapters, so I don’t anticipate them taking a lot of time. My aim is to have the package finished by April 1. I should have it done before then.

As I expected, this is turning out to be the most interesting part of the work. Everything I write now matters, and it’s easier—nay, vital—to deepen my involvement. Scenes that I put a lot of work into in early drafts have been dropped entirely, and scenes that I passed over lightly in the early drafts have taken on greater importance. You don’t know until the work gets down to the wire what you’re going to keep or to lean on. So I’m enjoying the work more. I hope that once I have a contract in hand, I’ll be able to fairly fly to the finish. It’s amazing what a deadline can do.

Happy New Year to everyone!


A Strange and Difficult Week

December 16, 2013

My involvement with the wild parrot flock here in San Francisco ended fourteen years ago, and yet from time to time I still find myself being called back to them. People often used to bring me injured or sick members of the flock that they found, but it’s been awhile since that last happened. This week, two parrots came into my life. The first time, a guy was on his way to work when he noticed a parrot in the middle of Columbus Avenue near the intersection with Broadway. Both are extremely busy streets. This fellow is new to town and didn’t know anything about the flock. He just saw a parrot in the middle of the street and decided it needed to be rescued. He brought it to his office, did a little online research, and found out about me. He emailed me, and I went to get the bird. The parrots have a terrifying habit of swooping down low into traffic and then pulling up again. Occasionally they hit cars. My first assumption was that this was the case with this bird. But when I got him home I noticed that he had a bare patch on his throat, that is, the feathers were missing. When a bird becomes ill, the other parrots will often attack him, and they often go for the throat. The bird (a friend named him Broadway) was breathing through his open beak, which indicated respiratory problems. I put him in a cage and gave him some heat. He was woozy and he let me handle him without fear. So he was a very sick bird. About two hours after I got him home, he dropped from his perch and landed on his back—dead.

A week later, I got a call from a neighbor who told me there was a parrot in a tree next to her house, that he’d been there a full day. She’d seen him on her roof the previous day, standing at the base of a plexiglass wind break, unable to fly. When she tried to pick him up, he’d jumped into the tree that he was in now. She was fairly certain he’d flown into the windbreak and been injured in the collision. We managed to get him out of the tree, and I discovered that he was breathing heavily. I could hear fluid in his lungs. I took him home and put him in the same cage I’d put Broadway in. Less than a half hour later, the same thing happened to this bird as happened to Broadway: He fell off the perch and died. It was a bit painful having to bury two of them in one week.


Mr. Mingus

Making the week all the stranger was that in between the deaths of these two parrots, Mingus died. If you’ve seen the movie The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, you’ll remember Mingus as the parrot who used to dance to my guitar playing. For the last fourteen years, he’s been down in the Oasis Sanctuary near Benson, Arizona. I went to see him a couple of times. He was the last parrot still living from my time with the flock. And now he’s gone, breaking that connection forever. Mingus’ act was often difficult to take. He was a lovable rogue—utterly charming and infuriatingly aggressive. I had to throw him outside many times and make him sleep in the trees because of his attacks on other birds that I was caring for. Sometimes he’d fly to a fuchsia growing next to my window and cry, begging to be let back in. (He’d been a pet once, although he was born in the wild in South America.) I usually did let him back in. I could seldom stay angry at Mingus for very long. But he could be extraordinarily cruel. Once, when I wasn’t home, he chewed the toe nails off a bird I was taking care of. The toe nails never grew back. Mingus lived a long life for a conure. At least 25 years, quite possibly more. He had girlfriends at the Oasis, and companionship is what a parrot craves most. I will never forget Mr. Mingus, aka, Mingus the Mongoose. In the end, I have to say that he was a friend of mine.