Notta and The Duck-Footed Conversation


About That

Notta and the Duck-Footed Conversation

“Saw you got a good number of likes for that cat piece,” Notta said. She’d come in early a few mornings ago, as if she knew something was afoot. She had her Wholefoods bag and a new, rather voluminous raffia-weave purse that someone had decorated with silk autumnal leaves. I fought the unkind thought of her as the Autumn Bag Lady.

“Yes, it seems to have tickled some folks,” I agreed.

“Not sure our foray into labeling our ‘significant others’ played so well.”

“Can we be sure of anything?”

She set the bags aside and sank into a spare office chair. Chair and sitter both sighed not unhappily. “Don’t go getting philosophical on me. You did good. We did good.”

“Well,” I corrected. “We did well.”

Notta made a face I’d seen on my children, my dear husband and countless students when I donned my Grammar Patrol hat. Something like a toddler’s first taste of a lemon mingled with a disgusted pout. “If we did so ‘well,’ why the long gap in writing?”

I shrugged. We’d come to the end of the early U.S. history lessons – which I always enjoyed – and were facing a few weeks of science – which I do not particularly enjoy. Apologies to science buffs and scientists; it’s simply not my ‘thing.’ “Why not?” I said

Notta exhaled a disgusted noise. “Stop that. You always dodge questions with a question.”

I had to grin. “Do I?”

“If I had a ball of yarn with me, I’d throw it at you.”

“Glad you don’t, then. I have a few at home – “

“Answer the question!”

Notta’s vehemence set me back in my own chair like a sudden gust of icy wind. For the briefest of moments, I understood the feeling a little short of terror that a witness experiences facing a cranky attorney in court. Or a Congressman with stands to make grand.

“We have to make sure we have all the science packets we need,” I said.

“We have them. I copied 12 more last week,” Notta said. “Stop dodging.”

“And the articles on ‘What is Life?’”

“You decided our students wouldn’t get much from it, so it would waste their time.”

“We talked about enriching their studies.” I admit it; she had me squirming.

“Remember the blow-back you got when you played the Maya Angelou recording on her birthday?”

“One student, Notta. And he didn’t stay long enough to get past fractions.”*

Notta raised her left hand, curled her fingers down and pretended to examine her nails. “I’ll wait for you to stop dancing around this, but I’m not moving until you do.”

“We have students in 15 minutes.”

“You have students in 15 minutes. I’ve got 3 hours before I have to be home.”

I bristled. “You don’t scare me, Notta. I have children.”

“And now you’re acting like them. I have grandchildren and I can out-stubborn them any day of the week and four times on Sunday.”

“Four times? Most folks say ‘twice.’”

“I’m not ‘most folks,’” she sniffed. “And when was the last time you had to get these kids today through a church service?” She shook her head. “If it ain’t on a big screen with Dolby sound, they can’t sit still.”

I smiled. I had one fond memory of taking my three to synagogue for Sabbath services. The older two and I participated in between giggles at the youngest, who was stretched out on the pew seat, snoring softly. “True, that, but I don’t think their parents engage them in the service, either.”

“That’s for another post, lady. I’m waiting.”

I raised a hand in surrender. “It’s a combination of things. Best I can explain it is this way:

“In what seems like another lifetime – technically, about 25 years ago, we lived in Colorado. A published author belonged to the same shul as we did and the Women’s Group held a celebration for the publication of her newest book. We were to give her individual congratulations and good wishes. I think my naive wish went something like, ‘May your creative well never run dry.’

“Well, the author corrected me immediately. ‘It will always run dry,’ she said. ‘That’s nature. And it’s a good thing. A well always full stagnates and becomes foul. One needs to drain it dry and then refill with the new and fresh.’”

“Good point,” Notta said. “So?”

“So I’ve been trying to work,” I said. “But so much feels old, stagnant, and repetitive. Did you ever read a series and, two or three books in, feel like you’d read it all before, but only the names and a few details changed?”

“More than I care to think about.”

I sighed. “ There’s no depth, no insight, no real interest. That’s what stops me. How much of this is stagnant? Water has to move, cover new territory. I don’t want to fall into the trap of writing the same things with different names. And yet, when I start, I get caught and the whole thing goes sideways.”

“Kind of like this conversation,” Notta observed.

“Yes, I suppose. Anyway, the ‘one step forward, two steps sideways’ scared and annoyed me, so I took a break to drain the well and hope for rain.”

“’One step forward and two sideways’? We used to call that walking duck-footed.” Notta leaned forward. “But I never met a duck-footed person yet who stopped walked altogether until the one foot straightened out.”

I heard some rustling and our Early Bird telling a somewhat off-color joke. I nodded to Notta. “I hear you. The trick, as it is said, is to keep moving. Duck-footed or not, keep moving.”

Notta wagged her finger at me. “You know I’m right.”

She rose from the chair, and both Notta and chair groaned. Then Notta went into class, humming this song:


* NOTE: most of our students come in needing remediation in math as far back as multiplication tables. From there, they progress to fractions. This fractions review can take upwards of a month, if the student attends class every week. Most are done in 3 weeks; a few have taken much longer. The student in this case was one of the latter.

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