Some Advice from the Land of the Free

When The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill was first published I braced myself for an onslaught of negativity. I was mostly concerned about how people would respond to the way I lived. Surprisingly, I’ve encountered very little of that. Reader reviews have been generally quite positive. So this recent Amazon review from “Durgi” under the title A disturbing read didn’t bug me all that much. I’m posting it so that people can see what you face potentially when you try to open up in public (and also because I find it vaguely humorous):

The author of this book has severe mental problems that need to be addressed. But his observations of a feral California flock are why I read thru it. I also saw the DVD, which better gives you a picture of the filth and squalor he’s accustomed to living in, and subjected birds to live in as well. He took way too many liberties with flock behavior and individuals within. Truthfully I wish he would have left his personal life completely out if it, as it was depressing and frankly, insane. I hope he gets the help he desperately needs.

Strangely, the reader posted her review on the film’s Amazon page rather than the book’s page. I considered ignoring it, but ultimately decided to post a reply:

Geez, Durgi. It’s difficult to know how to respond to such vitriol. Inaccurate vitriol at that. I’m fine. I was fine then, too. I wasn’t living in filth and squalor. I’m not insane. But I have never led a conventional life. I don’t understand why, in the “land of the free,” anybody should have a tough time with that. As far as taking liberties with the parrots goes, the only liberties I ever took were the kind that good friends take with one another.

As I say, it happens so seldom that it didn’t bother me too much. But I doubt I’ll get off so easily with Street Song. We’ll see.

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14 Responses to “Some Advice from the Land of the Free”

  1. Lynn Says:

    Hi Mark, I’m glad you didn’t take it personally. Your life choices are nobody else’s business as long as they don’t interfere with or harm others. You’re familiar with Mark Suelo, the guy who lives without money, right? You should see the hate mail HE gets! Keep living your life, what else can you do?

  2. Lynn Says:

    Whoops, I meant Dan Suelo….

    • markbittner Says:

      Yes, I know who he is. I went to see him speak here in San Francisco. I can only imagine what he receives. Interestingly, his talk here was packed.

  3. Brad Biggs Says:

    Hi, Mark. You know that you and I have had our disagreements politically, but we also are yearning for the same end result…. Freedom. Freedom to live as ourselves, freedom to worship as we choose, and most importantly, freedom from the tyranny of corporatism and government control of our lives. In my humble opinion, anyone who doesn’t appreciate the simplicity of your life doesn’t deserve the satisfaction of a response. There are many of us who envy the simple lifestyle you’ve chosen. Godspeed, my friend.

    • markbittner Says:

      I count myself these days among the utterly disillusioned. There are very few, virtually no well-known figures that I have any trust or faith in.

  4. Margaret Benbow Says:

    Mark, I saw The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. I had a very different reaction to your living circumstances than Durgi did. Yes, the cottage was modest, but you made the best of the space. Evidence of good organization and even beauty were everywhere. The birds you were nursing back to health had comfortable surroundings and a clean, healthy diet. I’m afraid Durgi has her own issues, and is the type of obsessive housekeeper my mother-in-law used to call “nasty clean.”

    • markbittner Says:

      Durgi is a “parrot person.” I became quite aware of them in my travels in support of the book and the film. There are all kinds of parrot people, some of them absolutely fine, others not so much. There is one subset that is so obsessed with their birds that they spend their days studying books and magazine articles that supposedly teach the “right way” to care for parrots. Many of these types become weirdly doctrinaire.

      I like “nasty clean.”

  5. Tim Mueller Says:

    Blame me, Mark! I thought I deleted that part of the email about reading reviews on At least you can laugh at other’s insanity.

  6. Kelly Says:

    Any time you put yourself “out there” some kook will come along to criticize and belittle your efforts. My family put some videos of our parrot on the internet, and immediately some crazy lady singled me out for bullying. My hair was unkempt. My clothes were ugly. My personality was the worst… etc. Our videos were about the bird. I asked the woman why she insisted on being so cruel. She said she was just being honest and that it was my own fault for –god forbid– interacting with my bird online. I guess she felt it was her duty to show me how mean the public can be. Then another stranger reached out to me, saying that he was sorry I’d also been a victim of her hatefulness; his wife, for reasons unknown, was a target, too. They’d operated a webcam sharing views of their koi pond… a harmless little koi pond. He and I agreed that the cruel woman must be bored, lonely and likely mentally ill. I replied to her once more, wishing her a happier life and informed her that I would no longer indulge her by reading her posts. And I haven’t. For all I know she still writes hurtful things about me and other people. But I will not be her audience. How lonely she must be in her bitter little world. We don’t need toxic people in our lives. Let’s surround ourselves with uplifting people, Mark, and ignore the attention-seeking trolls. I can’t wait to read your new book!

  7. joe Says:

    Dear mark,”Durgi”s comments are truly sad,to wholeheartedly attack & disparage anyone for living a simple,free,dare i say it? Natural,life in touch with one’s feelings & one’s surroundings as being mentally & physically unfit is lacking in irony if not to mention self-awareness,durgi’s “natural” environment is probably a strip-mall & probably figures milk comes from 😉 You just know she’d freak were she to be confronted with an actual cow! Never mind touring an actual farm 😉 (ooh the horror!) Never mind her,under the present “Detroit -Coming to a town near you” circumstances,we naturals will fare far better than the suburbans.
    Look at your disillusion as just being a notification that we’re back to the old circumstances: the turned on,tuned in,in touch v.s. nixon.
    The bohemians,artists & seekers have always survived,& always will,to quote Margret Atwood,”after all the atomics have dropped or whatever apocalypse,the first 2 forms of life to re-emerge are always the same: cockroaches…& artists!– to us it’s all just grist for the mill” 😉 Very much looking forward to your book,i suspect it’s going to be a slow-burning cult classic selling a certain amount every year a la “on the road,or sheldon b kop’s “if you meet the buddha on the road-kill him” (i highly recommend if you can find it),
    Also i might recommend Oliver Shroerer’s cd “camino” he walked the entire st-jaques de compostelle pilgrim’s route with the minimum,a backpack,his violin,& a mini-tape dat recorder improvising jazz riffs & compositions in whatever structures he came upon,cavern,crumbling church or chapel,abandoned barns or cellars,all in real-time,no tricks!Cold,hungry,tired,raining,no excuses! An album for the ages.Keep on keeping’ on,we who would question are sometimes too quiet,but we are many,& we are all with you,still waters run deep & strong,keep the faith dude,leave the industrial noise to the industrials,we know better.Joe.

  8. Robin Says:

    Hi Mark-
    I first shared the movie with my 99 year old grandma 7 years ago and last month with my 6 year old. All three of us enjoyed learning about the Parrots and your life as related. We are heading to San Francisco later this week and would love to find the parrots. Do you know the best place to look?

    • markbittner Says:

      A Hollywood filmmaker once told me that Wild Parrots is the type of film that Hollywood is constantly trying to create, but cannot buy: A film for kids of “all ages.”

      As far as where to find the flock goes: I don’t keep up with them these days. I am such a hermit working on this book. I do hear from other people, “I saw them here, I saw them there.” But there doesn’t seem to be any particular location. There are so many of them now that you’d be hard pressed not to encounter them. Just keep your ears open and follow the sound.

  9. derekdubolski Says:

    Hi Mark, I thoroughly enjoy your blog and in deed greatly liked your book when I read it after first seeing the film. I am glad you are not disconcerted by the ludicous and inaccurate criticism of one person. Sadly there seems to be a few individuals who feel compelled to make such totally inappropriate comments and invariably it says far more about them and their obvious short-comings than about the topic of their criticism. Mostly I believe it is best ignored although it can some times prove particularly irritating. One of the first persons to review my book of short stories and post it on Amazon for all to see made outrageous comments (complete with spelling errors/lamentable grammar I might add) and actually admitted he had only read the first few pages! Not the sort of review one appreciates for a new book!

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