The promise of a "Writers' Mixer" got me to walk through the doors of the Mechanics' Institute Library. I enjoyed the opportunity to meet other writers who are finding their way, as I am, and to hear about the critique groups that meet at the library throughout the week. Anyone who writes finds that, after a couple of revisions, he needs a reader in order to know if he is making sense. Who better to do him that favor than another writer in need of the same favor?
I was surprised to learn that a place named "Mechanics' Institute" offers such events, as well as a film series, appearances by all kinds of authors, book clubs, classes and so on; and, that its library has a general interest collection. The institute was founded in 1854 to offer vocational education to the many left out of work when the Gold Rush of 1849 went bust. Since then, it has adapted to the needs of its members.
So, for about the cost of subscribing to a daily newspaper, I joined the club. I had to ask myself why, considering that it duplicates some of what is available from The San Francisco Public Library, and that I remain a supporter and enthusiastic user of the Public. For one things, Mechanics' has a really cool clubhouse downtown:
For another thing, I admit I felt a thrill when the staff member who hosted the Writers' Mixer just happened to mention that Jack London and Ambrose Bierce are among the illustrious former members of the institute.
And for one more thing, they have this great workout center, which not only lets you get exercise, but also allows access to the four floors occupied by the institute:
Poets and Writers magazine sponsored a one-day workshop, held in this lovely old movie palace, which has been converted to live performance. There were lots of poets and writers in attendance, but the only bears were a few UC Berkeley graduates. I took lots of notes as we heard about other workshops etc. in the Bay Area, what's up with self-publishing and what works in a query letter. Way to go, P&W: classy event!
An added benefit for me was discovery of 24th Street in the Mission District of San Francisco. The photo below doesn't do justice to the liveliness of these blocks. They are full of bakeries, restaurants and all sorts of stores. There were people of all ages going about their business of that sunny Saturday morning.
Sadly, neighborhoods like this are disappearing in San Francisco, as Google, Apple, Genentech and the like run their private buses up from Silicon Valley so their employees can live here rather than in the suburban subdivisions that surround their campuses. When a bunch of people making six-figure incomes move in, rents go up, franchises replace the mom and pops, and purveyors of urban chic replace the thrift stores. So, I guess I am glad I walked down one of these streets while it was still there.
This traditional Chinese lion is part of the exhibit created by Ai Wei Wei for installation in the former Federal Prison on Alcatraz Island in San Franciso Bay. The irony is deliberate: an artist kept under house arrest for criticizing the government of his native country creates art to be seen and heard in a prison that is now open to all the world.
Imprisonment of political dissidents is the subject of the work. In an old cell block, he has installed recordings of everyone from Martin Luther King jr. to Pussy Riot. Each 5 x 8 cell plays a different recording. And then there is the old factory room which has the floor covered in portraits of the dissidents done in Legos:
I asked one of the interpreters on hand for the exhibit about taking photographs. She said the artist encourages it and is himself an enthusiastic user of social media.
By the way, thanks to my Annie for walking by just at the right moment when I was photographing the lion.