So on my way back to Australia, I was wearing a new bra.

Riveting stuff, right?

The damn thing set off every metal detector I walked through. Suddenly I was a Slightly Interesting Person to the security people.

Only slightly interesting. Being a white, English-speaking female wearing a suburban-mum outfit travelling with an American (and male) spouse and carrying a sleepy three-year-old apparently puts you fairly low on the list of dangerous types. Nevertheless, I was removed from the line and patted down and such.

I’ve read accounts of this that made it seem very upsetting and scary. And I’m sure it was, for those people. Certainly I think that our pallid-middle-class appearance stood us in good stead. But seriously, the TSA people were just so nice! The first time I set the detector off, the guy gave me about five tries to get through without jostling it, then waited while I passed the sleeping ninja to the spouse and waved me through to speak to one of the female TSA people. (Officers? Peons? who knows?) She took one look at my not unimpressive bust and said it was probably my underwire, and did I buy my bra at Nordstroms by any chance?

I had.

She nodded wisely and said that yes, that usually happens. The lines carried at Nordstroms use a heavier gauge of underwire or something. She asked a couple of times if I knew what a patdown entailed and if I wanted to have it in private. (I said no, but it was nice to be asked). The pat-down itself was barely noticeable, and another TSA lady very kindly assisted my husband with our copious carry-ons, stroller, and dozy little ninja while I was otherwise engaged. They were all very friendly and nice about the whole thing, and I was warned that since I knew my underwire would set off the machine, I should just offer to go through the body-scan machine at LAX, when we switched to the international flight, so I wouldn’t have to get patted down again. The TSA lady giving me the patdown assured me that she worked around the machine all the time and had absolutely no worries about safety, radiation-wise, which was a nice effort to be reassuring.

Unfortunately, there was no scanner in the area I went through at LAX, so I had to be metal-detected again. And once again, the lady doing the pat-down was very nice about it, offering me privacy and apologizing a couple of times for having to feel around in the waistband of my jeans. Once again, someone else helped the spouse manage our bags, piling them up on a bench out of the way while he had to wait for me and helping him manage stroller and ninja. They even hurried my mobile phone through the scanner so it could be handed back to the ninja, who is besotted by a new nursery-rhyme program I downloaded for her.

So if you’re traveling to or from the USA, and have heard the scary stories about the TSA… well, sometimes they’re true. But sometimes they can be awfully nice and helpful, too!

And wear a bra with thin underwire.


The Bookshop. THE Bookshop

I am home!

Which, sadly, means that nobody is going to make me a mocha when I lurch out of bed, or offer to cook breakfast for me, or watch the ninja while I sleep until noon. I miss you, kindly mother-in-law! But it does mean that I have my preferred brand of soymilk for my coffee (which the spouse made for me, so I still didn’t have to make my own), my favourite kind of bread for my breakfast toast (the USA does not contain King Henry rye bread, which is a terrible loss for the USA), and I have my own computer again and I have missed it so much!

I have also missed Tumblr. I love you, Tumblr.

It was a pretty great trip, all up. Got to spend time with family, show off my beautiful and well-behaved daughter, and do fun stuff like shop at the BIGGEST BOOK STORE IN THE WORLD. Seriously!

Powells' City of Books

Powells’ City of Books

This is only part of it, by the way – the City of Books is a full city block in size, with many rooms on multiple levels. My personal favourite is the Gold Room, which contains science fiction, fantasy, comic books and manga. Perhaps you would prefer to get some children’s books or YA from the Rose Room, a best-seller from the Green Room, a travel book from the Red Room or a historical tome from the Purple Room. They have everything, and I mean everything.

They buy new and used, so I’ve found out-of-print treasures for a few dollars, including a copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead (Budge’s translation) which I’d been hunting for for ages. It is THE bookshop, the shop of shops, where you really can get lost – seriously, you can get so turned around in there. The spouse tells the story of a man who really did accidentally get locked in there one night at closing – he was sitting in an out of the way corner and had dozed off. There’s a coffee-shop that they let you take books into. There are shopping baskets in bright primary colours and a checking desk, so you can buy an armload of books, drop them off, and keep shopping!

The new and used thing means you should check every copy of a book – some will be much cheaper than others, especially if they’re a little foxed around the edges. There are some amazing bargains – but be warned! It’s possible to spend a lot of money in there very quickly. If you live close enough, you can offset this by bringing old books to sell off, earning yourself some store credit.

If you’re travelling from far away – well, try to control yourself. And make sure you have some spare room in your suitcase. But wherever you are in the world, if you love books, then Powells’ is definitely a place to put on your ‘places to visit’ list. Portland is a lovely city to visit, unless you really hate rain, and I absolutely recommend it a stop – or the destination – on a reader’s literary pilgrimage.

And if you can’t afford that, they have an online store.

Packing to go home is always harder than packing to leave.

At home, you have all your stuff right there, you can leave things behind if they don’t fit into the suitcase, and you can wear other clothes so you can get your laundry done in advance. Packing to go *back*, suddenly you have more things to fit into the same amount of space, you can’t remember how you got it all into one suitcase in the first place and you have to pack the clothes, shoes and toothpaste you are currently wearing and using.

So yeah, I’m going to have a fun day.

It’s like editing.

No, really, I’m not reaching for this comparison at all.

See, your suitcase is your plan, right? You’ve got characters and plot and stuff in there, some odds and ends of character development shoved in the corners, and you’re all set for your writing ‘trip’.

Inevitably along the way you will find that you’ve forgotten a few essentials, like the toothpaste of Three Dimensional Protagonists and the dry socks of Plot-Hole Stuffing. So you’ll pick those up and add them on the way. Plus you’ll find some things on the trip that you want, like that darling little secondary character who’ll go beautifully with the NaNoWriMo sweater you couldn’t resist. Souvenirs are nice! 

Except that when you need to bring your story ‘home’, suddenly your plan-suitcase is just completely inadequate to the job. You have more characters and more plot and suddenly you realize all that waffling on in chapters five, eight and ten is hanging out the back of the suitcase looking saggy and sad.

Editing is like trying to fit all the detritus of a long trip back into the same suitcase you left with. Unlike real life mementos – and underwear – there is no financial pain or social awkwardness involved in abandoning what won’t fit. You need to go through and decide, again, what will serve the story best, what you need and what you really like but doesn’t serve the plot.

Of course a plan, unlike a suitcase, can be expanded to fit that darling little secondary character, if she still fits the plot. But anything that doesn’t fit should be either left behind or – if you can’t bear to – put in a second ‘cut files’ suitcase just in case you do need them someday.

Now I need to stop putting off packing. Ugh. Wish me luck.

Off on the trip!

Posting will resume in a couple of days. Until then, I want to thank all of my followers for following me, and open the door to any questions. Is there anything you guys want to know? About writing? About me? About living in Australia? Feel free to ask!

Also, you know what sucks about packing? That you can’t finish it ahead of time. Can’t be done. You can’t finish until the morning that you leave.

Because toothbrush.