Lent, 2009

My tutor is looking at me. On the board is written:

if ($b != 0) {
echo “La division es: ” . ($a / $b);
} else {
echo “ERROR: No se puede dividir por cero”;

“Emma! Why do I have this condition?” He says to me, in Spanish of course. I roll to the side of my chair. My ribs are hurting.




Oh that shrinking feeling from being fired a maths question by the teacher, the brain flusters, locks….I shift awkwardly in my chair again.

“Whats the matter Emma? You’re not going to give birth in my class are you?”

“No, it’s just that these chairs are crap.” And they are. Rafa keeps looking at me with an expressionless face, waiting for the answer. He has a programmer’s face. He knows the names of obscure mythical dragons. He loves cult movies and random quotes from Blade Runner. I don’t hold that against him. So do I. Now.

“Emma, can I divide a value by zero?”

“ummmm.…No?” I squeak hopefully.

“Exactly, so I have to cover this event in the code with this condition.”

“Hmmm” I’m scratching my tummy. Please, am I the ONLY person in this room who left mathematics behind at 16? The other day as I made a pathetic attempt to find the right symbol on the keyboard using Control or Alt or Fn or Alt Gr or whatever it was, Rafa lost his patience and cried exasperatedly, “God you’re slow Emma!” I retorted that if I was a Jedi Master I wouldn’t be there. Take that!

[“And let’s see you try and survive in the bush, or steer a canoe successfully through rapids on the Whanganui, or find South with the Southern Cross or look after new born lambs or climb Ngauruhoe or, or, or bloody hell you smug computer man!”…I had wanted to add.]

My world is a large ocean of questions with gray answers. Images and ideas that form in my head and ask to be put outside on a surface somewhere. I’m happy living with ambiguity, or the inability to fully explain everything. Here, in the world of programming everything has to end with a true or a false, there is no alternative and if you miss a comma or semi colon, you draw a blank or better still, a big lettered ERROR.

But I like numbers. They form an entirely new way of seeing the world for a painter girl like me. Omar who is from Morrocco, is my class companion and is presently putting a couple of Spanish words into his online translator to see what the hell is going on. He and I are known as the “North Goal”, as named by our tutor. The first time he called us that, I thought he said “North Pole” and was ready to have it out with him then and there. I’m still not sure if it’s not an insult anyway. At least we share the sense of being lost at sea more than a few times every morning.

The other day Omar just started to laugh. Rafa had looked at me for an explanation and I had shrugged a childish “I dunno.” Omar told me later that he was laughing at the absurdity of trying to learn programming from a knowledge base of zero, being an Arabic speaker, with French and still less Spanish, learning to write a code that used arbitrary English words in an entirely new syntax of commas and brackets AND trying to remember his maths. Madness.

Madness it is, but there is still painting being squeezed into my days somewhere here and there just to keep me sane. This weekend is reserved as a painting sanctuary, though I have to keep the windows open, wear gloves and take regular breaks. My tummy is swelling like a melon and adds daily to my Programming teacher’s unease every time I jump in my seat with an awkward internal kick.

“Don’t worry Rafa, I won’t be sending you out for boiling water and towels.” He’s already told me I’m adding to the overpopulation of the planet. No turning back now Rafael: [for ($numero = 1; $numero <= infinity; $numero++)].

Speaking of counting, Lent officially started on Wednesday. It comes with a lift in spirits, and in temperature, for Spring is coming. It reminded me wistfully of this time last year. I was starting my Lent project that consisted in visiting the Taupo volcanic plateau via webcam every day for the forty days and collecting data for a series of paintings. This year the reflection is closer to home, and the project somewhat different. The baby is due at Easter.

The thing about being pregnant is the universality of it. Omar grins at my tummy everyday and asks if the baby is kicking. The other day on my daily commute, as glazed eyed people failed to notice me clutching the handrails above, an elderly man called out in a husky voice, “A pregnant woman is on her feet, someone give up a seat!”

Late one night going home after giving a class I was stretching my back out when an elderly woman opposite me leaned forward and said,

“It gets hard at this time of the day doesn’t it daughter?”

I smile and nod.

“And your legs get a bit swollen too.”

You betcha.

“Not long now,” she says with a smile, “Not long now.”

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