Mark Bittner is now the well-known and well-respected author of a best-selling memoir, *The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill*. It's a fascinating account of his interactions with a flock of wild parrots that lives in the North Beach area of San Francisco. For many years Bittner studied, fed and protected these birds even when he was struggling with homelessness and poverty. He kept a detailed journal on the flock, but resisted the idea of becoming a professional writer. Bittner was a devoted student of Eastern religions, and wanted to cultivate peace and serenity in himself. All the famous writers he'd heard of seemed to have become drunkards, drug addicts, brawlers, wife-beaters. Bittner was afraid that if he wrote, he would become some kind of psychopath, develop a host of exotic problems and die years before his time.
Eventually, however, Bittner noticed that his journal on the parrot flock had become 1000 pages long. In other words, he was already writing. Also, he loved reading and studying books, and slowly he accepted the idea that maybe it would not be too bad an endeavor to write one. This is his description of his change of heart:
"As for my old fears about the fate of writers, I was ALREADY destitute, and having survived the streets, I was no longer afraid of going insane or becoming an alcoholic. I found some milk crates and an old door and improvised a desk. I'd written short stories and I'd written songs, but I had no idea how one went about writing an entire book. My usual method would have been to buy some books on how to write a book, but I didn't see myself as having the time for that. I didn't delay even a single day; I just sat down and started writing."
*The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill* is one of the most delightful, as well as tough-minded and informative, books you could read, this year or any other year. It continues to sell very well. Bittner can now afford a real desk and computer, but he still often likes to write by hand. He's now reached the second-draft stage of his new book, *Street Song.*
His fears about turning into a degenerate never materialized. Bittner and his wife Judy live a remarkably healthy life. They can often be seen biking up and down the San Francisco hills, or swimming in the icy, rambunctious waves of the Bay in close proximity to waterbirds, sea lions, and harbor seals.