The Appalachian trail is behind me, all 2100 plus miles. I indulged in traversing it over a week of reading the published journal of a dedicated soul who actually, step by step, accomplished the feat. I admire him for his determination and will power. Did he inspire me to contemplate undertaking such a journey? No. Section hike? Possibly. Day hike? Yes.
Early in the book he enlightens the reader to the reality of ‘zero days.’ They were the days he was off the trail, checked into a motel, ate in a café, or utilized the laundromat. Sore ankles and over zealous blisters were also reasons for a zero day. He wondered if taking them would drain his motivation to continue. As a reader, I wondered for him. I wondered about myself in his situation.
I experience zero days as a writer, days when the I am drained of ideas, listless and unmotivated to write. Sometimes the zero days are planned. The holidays, vacation, a visit to the grandchildren, beginning or finishing a sewing project, a day of watching football or opening day at the baseball park are a few reasons to step off the trail and indulge in a zero day. In the beginning zero days were welcome, a rest stop to be coveted. I had accomplished my quota for the week and I could think of other things. Once the gate inside of me had been lifted to let the current of ideas flow freely, zero days made me nervous. Would I lose the motivation to push onward? Would the flow cease, the ideas pass me by as I was resting?
A bit of advice I read early in the writing process sticks with me. Once you push past a certain point, the writer promised/warned, you can’t NOT write. Zero days no longer scare me. I understand they are good things. After a diversion I return, energized, my writing picks up quickly and more clearly than when I left. Now I covet my return rather than my exit.
Hiking on the Appalachian Trail also presented the author with ‘nero days,’ days when only a minimum of forward process was made. For him they were days of token hiking, or a hike cut short by weather, injury, or an unexpected need to resupply food or equipment.
Nero days frustrate me as zero days do not. Nero days are unplanned, they are interruptions when the words in my head clamor for release. Nero days occur when the children call for a long talk, unexpected visitors arrive or the leftovers I was counting on to constitute dinner have been consumed. Then the promise of the writer becomes the warning. I must find a way between phone calls, in spite of welcome visitors or an empty refrigerator to commit the words to paper.
I am a flexible body, I love the unexpected. I want the children to call, the doorbell to ring, the boys to fling themselves in the chair in my work room and invite me into their lives. How do the two wants abide at peace within me? In a manner similar to conversing while driving, my brain divides into two portions, one going into autopilot, the other focusing on the more important issue. So I deal with interruptions, they receive my attention, while the words continue to tumble and stack in a separate section of my brain. I simply do not let go.
Zero days, nero days, sore feet, injury, short supplies, or inclement weather, have not deterred me from the trail. The journey itself, every stone on the path and each vista on the mountain top, the raindrops that plunk from the trees and even the sudden storms that send me scurrying for shelter, entice me onward. The goal, the final destination, the signpost that says I have arrived, motivates and compels me to continue. The knowledge that zero days and nero days cannot keep me from returning, is both a comfort and a cudgel, a promise and a warning. I am a committed thru hiker and zero days, nero days, are part of the process.
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