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Monday, July 11, 2016

The Story of Bruce Bird


The story of Bruce Bird must now be told. I see him aging and having difficulty moving around his cage. He has stopped eating the spinach he used to devour as soon as I put it in his cage. Parakeets can live up to ten or thirteen years, according to my resources, and Bruce is at least ten and maybe much older. I don’t know, and here’s why:

On June 14, 2006, my phone rang much too early in the morning, the kind of call that makes me know in my gut that something is wrong. When I answered, a sobbing Roy Pfiester blurted, “Bruce is gone. Bruce died this morning.”

What? Bruce Brown, a travel agent for American Express, was my good buddy with whom I’d not only shared years of friendship but who also had been my travel mate to Morocco. Wherever Bruce went, his raucous laughter filled the room. Bruce and Roy’s cockatoo even mimicked Bruce’s laugh. In the time I knew Bruce he and Roy had a cat, a dog, and several exotic birds. We sometimes took care of other’s dogs, when one of us traveled.

Roy, Bruce’s partner, was the quiet half of the couple. He always grinned and quietly found humor in Bruce’s antics and unfiltered comments.

Bruce was young, in his fifties. I was in my sixties at the time. How could Bruce have left this earth before me? Why? He had been perfectly healthy. Nothing made sense.

As best we could eventually determine, Bruce had some sort of medical episode upon landing in Banff, Canada, on a Fam tour—one agents use to become familiar with destinations they may later recommend to clients. The doctors weren’t sure if Bruce had altitude sickness or a heart problem, so they transferred him to a larger hospital in Calgary, where he finally felt well enough and had time to call Roy. Roy said Bruce’s last words to him were, “This isn’t good-bye.”

It was.

I was distraught, but I could only imagine how devastated Roy was, because their partnership had been strong for more than twenty years. Bruce’s memorial service overflowed with people giving heartfelt testimony to the witty, loving man.

After Bruce’s death, I could not get a handle on my depression. About two weeks later, I was on the phone when something caught my eye. On a chair back outside my window sat a colorful bird, looking in the window. I thought at first it might be a painted bunting, which I’d seen only in photos, but when I stepped closer, I saw that it was a blue parakeet. Parakeets should not be flying around loose in Atlanta, Georgia, so I told the person on the phone that I’d call back. I opened the back door gently, for fear the bird would take off. It didn’t.

I walked over slowly, one step at a time.

The bird held its ground.

I slipped my hand over the bird, fearing it would try to fly away. It didn’t. I gingerly walked back into my house holding a quaking, skinny parakeet.

Now what?

My humane trap for catching squirrels and mice was small, but it was safe and the closest thing I had to a cage. I put the bird in the humane trap and brought it into my kitchen. I found a bag of seeds I had intended to put into my feeder outside and put some seeds in the bird’s temporary cage. The little budgie dug in, eating like it had been starving. It probably had been.

I tried to find its rightful owner. I put up signs around the neighborhood and posted notices on the Internet, but every call I received was for a lost parrot, not a parakeet. Someone had lost a beautiful parakeet, and I wanted to find its rightful home, because I had no interest in owning a bird. While I waited to find its owner, though, I watched the colorful creature eat, drink, and even sing, and I felt in awe.

After a few days I recalled that when my friend Ruth’s husband died suddenly, she started finding feathers everywhere she went. She told me Robert was sending her feathers to tell her everything was all right. Feathers? My friend Bruce, animal lover that he was, had sent me an entire bird! I knew the bird had come to the right place.

I gladly invested in a proper cage and all the other equipment one buys for a parakeet, and Bruce Bird had a name and a home.

The story doesn’t end there, though.

In my research I learned how to tell the sex of a parakeet. I learned that an adult male has a blue or purple cere, the little crest above its beak. Adult females have a brown, crusty cere. Bruce Bird, with his brown, crusty cere, was not a male, but a female. I had to chuckle with my new knowledge, because I knew Bruce Brown wouldn’t have minded having a feathered female namesake; he was totally out of the closet himself.

Ah, but there’s  more.

When Bruce Bird stopped eating and singing, I worried about his health and found an avian vet who put the bird through many tests. She explained that the bird was indeed a male, but because it had underdeveloped testicles—two tiny dots on the x-rays—it had become feminized. By then I knew my friend Bruce must have been rolling in laughter in heaven. Although Bruce was gay, he wasn’t transgender, but leave it to Bruce to send me a transgender bird. Yes, my friend always had a great sense of humor.

My sister guffawed at me for spending hundreds of dollars on veterinary bills for a bird that could be replaced for ten or fifteen dollars, but Bruce Bird was irreplaceable. Bruce Brown sent him to me from beyond. I believe it, and it is so.

Anyway, after a course of antibiotics and weighing the bird daily to ensure he was not losing weight (Yes, I had to buy a special scale), Bruce Bird recuperated and returned to his cheerful demeanor. What I found fascinating was that he never allowed me to hold him again without trying to bite me, so that first time I picked him up on the deck, he must have been near death from starvation.

Ten years I’ve enjoyed the parakeet I never thought I’d own. It’s been ten years of buying seeds, apples, spinach, cuttlebones, toys, and cages. Ten years of having to arrange for bird sitters whenever I traveled. Ten years of having him greet me each morning with a happy twitter. Ten wonderful years.

A few weeks ago, though, I found Bruce Bird on the floor of his cage, unable to get back on his perch. He squawked and fought me when I put him back on his perch, but eventually he held onto the perch and then ate. Ever since then he’s had trouble moving around. He has stopped singing. He refuses to eat his greens or apple slices, but at least he still eats his seeds and drinks his water.

I know he’s aging, and it’s a natural process over which I have no control. I don’t know how old he was when he came to me, but he was already a mature bird. He’s given me ten great years of enjoyment with his songs, mimicking sounds, and warbling to the TV. I know I will lose him one day, but at least I’m being given some warning. He’s going to entertain Bruce Brown in heaven one day. I don’t want to think about it, but I do thank Bruce Brown for sending me a little blue bundle of joy to get me through my original sadness. Maybe he’ll send another parakeet to rescue if this one flies over the rainbow bridge.

.

 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

I’m always impressed with fiction writers. Not only must their word choice and word order be correct, but they must also conjure up stories with conflict and suspense as well as good characterization, lively dialogue, and an alluring beginning, strong middle, and satisfying end. After decades of getting paid for my writing, I accept that I am a nonfiction writer, not a fiction writer. The two novels I’ve attempted to write were so clearly based on my life that I quit the first one and never tried to find a publisher for the second one. As an editor I have studied fiction and can tell a writer what’s wrong with a novel and even make suggestions on how to repair it, but I cannot magically summon a story out of thin air myself.
 
As a nonfiction writer, though, I still have the same challenge to come up with ideas, and where are those ideas? For example, I needed to write a creative writing exercise for my monthly newsletter, The Writers Network News. I had no idea what I would write for that exercise, but I had a few weeks before it was due. I trusted that ideas abound, and one would come to me.

Sure enough, one day I read the following quotation from philosopher and author Jean Jacques Rousseau: “What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?” Ding! The quotation triggered some deep thoughts, and an idea slowly formed in my head.

If I asked writers to write about kindness, though, how would the topic make a good story? Because strong stories employ conflict, how can kindness result in conflict? Aha! The answer came to me, and I wrote the following creative writing exercise:

Random Acts of Kindness

We’ve all heard of random acts of kindness and how surprising yet appreciated they always seem to be. We’re writers, though, and we know the best stories involve conflict. No one wants to read about everything going hunky dory.

For this exercise, create a character that performs a random act of kindness. To introduce conflict, have his or her act backfire into something not so kind. For example, what if your character noticed that the person ahead of him in the checkout line could not find enough money to pay for his purchase? What if your Good Samaritan character pulled out his billfold and peeled off a couple of dollars to complete the stranger’s purchase? What if that stranger then stood in wait for your character to emerge from the store so he could rob him of the remaining money in his wallet?

Think of your own scenario of a random act of kindness turning into something sinister, unkind, or otherwise unexpected in a negative way.

* * *

Where do ideas come from? Ideas are everywhere, if we but open our eyes. Read headlines in the news. Be in the moment, wherever you are, and observe everything around you; something may come to mind. Read voraciously. Be a neutral witness to things happening to you. Keep your eyes and your mind open. Sometimes you’ll get ideas from writing exercises such as the one I just told you about. You’ll see that exercise in the August 2016 issue of The Writers Network News. If you’d like a monthly creative writing exercise, something that gives you ideas that compel you to start, complete, or continue a story, subscribe to The Writers Network News for free. You’ll also get news, tips, markets, contests, and much more for writers. Simply go to http://zebraeditor.com/ and click on Free Newsletter to sign up.