My recent flight to Denver was the second time I've been asked to step aside for a personal search by the TSA. The first was more than a year ago and detailed in my blog post, "Feeling Secure." That time the culprit was too much bling (watch, bracelet, zippers on my skirt), and I set off so many alarms that I got "wanded." This time, I was on my way to the annual American Christian Fiction Writers conference, and was surprised that my carry-on bag set was tagged as "suspicious" as it passed through the x-ray machine. It contained no liquids or pointy objects--I'd been very careful about that. And (because it was heavy) I almost checked it, rather than hassle with the bench-press oomph required to heft it into an overhead bin, but . . .
It contained all my "authorly" things, like a 4-pound chunk of freshly printed manuscript, CODE TRIAGE that I needed for the Donald Maas workshop. Plus a new glossy stand-up poster of the cover for DISASTER STATUS, featuring (get a fire-extinguisher, ladies!) the very handsome face of Captain Scott McKenna. And since I was scheduled to take part in my very first ACFW book signing, several other related items, like: gold "Autographed Copy" labels, a plastic bookstand, favorite pens, and a large box of CRITICAL CARE bookmarks. In my opinion stuff too important to risk getting lost in transport, but . . . "suspicious"? Didn't seem likely.
I was asked to step aside, follow the (very polite) TSA employee to an inspection table, my mind tumbling. Were pens too pointy? Did my bookstand look like a weapon in silhouette? Was it--
"Ah . . . cards," the employee said, opening the lid of a small cardboard box.
"Bookmarks," I clarified, idly wondering if I should offer her one. She looked like a reader.
The woman gave a decisive nod. "Organic."
"Paper, thick piles--too hard to identify." She smiled and told me I could zip the suitcase.
I resisted the urge to offer her a bookmark, secured my bag, and moved on, but not without a sense of amusement that my identity as a writer had once again set me apart. If I hadn't been hauling those bookmarks I wouldn't have been stopped; if I wasn't a writer I wouldn't be going to Denver with a hefty chunk of manuscript that represented six months' work. To spend a weekend with more than 500 other people-- mega-published authors and brand new writers--all "set apart" by the passion for words. Folks who (as keynote speaker and best-selling author Debbie Macomber would later say) continue to follow that passion, because "to quit would mean losing a piece of your soul."
She hit the nail on the head-- and raised goosebumps all over me. We'd come from places like California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona,Texas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Ohio, Florida, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand . . . because we needed the connection, the support of people who understood: "to quit would mean losing a piece of my soul." We arrived packing cell phones, lap tops, workbooks, appointment schedules, Birkenstock's, formal wear. And, some of us, even "suspicious organic material" in the form of bookmarks. But more than all that, we came with hopes and dreams . . . that set us apart.
And sometimes get us searched by the TSA. But . . .
We're writers, and it's worth it.
Check out my FaceBook fan page at Candace Calvert Books for photos from ACFW 2009.
And let me know if you'd like some lovely and suspiciously organic bookmarks to give to friends, your favorite bookstore or library. Because . . . shhhh (eyes darting back and forth) :
I'm still armed and dangerous.