Thursday 6 November 2008
Tracey Emin: 'I know there's another world out there. I can't prove it. But I know it'
My Life In A Column: 'I should put aside more time to think about the people who are dead that I love. To conjure their voice'
I am lying in bed, my eyes are just peeping over the covers. I'm staring at the grey of Docket's fur against the grey of my fake fur blanket, against the grey of the sky that's coming through the window. The air looks heavy and saturated and the grey looks like a colour that's been mixed. Half a tube of zinc white with the tiniest drop of Payne's grey, a couple of splashes of water and that's the colour of my sky.
It seems like I've spent weeks in bed, but that's the problem with being unwell, days and nights just seem to fade into one another and early morning really is early morning. I wake at 5am wanting to be filled with zest and energy, but instead I just lie on my back, my neck propped up with a pillow, listening to Radio 3. It has only recently dawned on me how much I really love classical music, music I know absolutely nothing about. I find myself happily absorbed for hours in the dream-like tranquillity of its sound. It feels real and uncontaminated, two adjectives that I find almost impossible to apply to anything these days.
I started being unwell about two weeks ago. I found myself lying in bed, hot and cold and shivery, the nape of my neck saturated in sweat. I said to my boyfriend on a Sunday afternoon: "I think this is what it feels like when you're going to die." And in my shivering state I went into a kind of delirium. I dreamt that I had closed the door behind me, the door of the house that I had lived in when I was a child. But now I was a super-fit adult wearing a black baseball cap and running gear. My body was muscley and well formed. There was zero fat.
I jogged down the alleyway towards the Britannia pub, eventually arriving at Fort Hill. But everything was different, the road had gone and the car park had tumbled into the sea. Broken bits of asphalt with tufts of grass moved and rocked slightly beneath my feet. I clambered down towards the beach, climbing in between the jagged rocks and asphalt.
The beach was beautiful: golden sands soft under my feet but just the right consistency to run on, the colour of the sea an amazing aquamarine, and as I squinted towards the sun, I could see silhouettes of figures flying the most beautiful kites. As I ran, my eyes remained focused on the movements of the sails of the kites as they danced around in the wind. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of happiness and freedom, but as my eyes followed the darting shapes, I realised my trainers were getting wet. The tide had come in and I was blocked off in a bay. I couldn't go forward, I could only go back, back the way I had come. I looked at the kite-flying figures to realise that they weren't real, they were just shadows on the sands.
I ran back toward the crumbling asphalt. The sea was becoming ferocious, spitting and licking at my thighs. Giant waves began to appear that at any second could just sweep me away. I clambered up on to the broken bits of tarmac, my hands grappling to hold on to whatever I could. I could feel my back getting wet and the sea spray covering my neck. I began to panic and cry as my nails were filled with the soft black tar, and my elevation seemed almost impossible. I panicked and looked for a stronger foothold. And then up above me, I saw my Nan. She said: "This way, come this way." She held out her hand and pulled me to the top, and just as I reached my destination of safety, she let go my hand and said: "I have to go now."
A few days later, I was in hospital with a temperature of 110. As I lay there, attached to my drip, I thought about my dream and I wondered whether it was a dream, or whether it was one of those near-death experiences. I wondered whether my Nan was saving my life, or whether she would have been leading me to another world.
It's so long since I have dreamt of her and to be honest, I don't think of her enough. I realise I should put time aside to think about the people who are dead that I love. To conjure their voice, their smell, the touch of their hair and their skin. To try and remember how someone truly was. I know there's another world out there. I can't prove it, but I know it. Since I was a child I have always known it.
This last couple of weeks I have been in and out of sleep, the twilight hours lasting longer than ever and the sleep patterns deeper than they have ever been before. It really feels like I have slipped into another world. Somewhere beautiful and peaceful, somewhere I can rest and sleep.
Tracey Emin's '20 Years' retrospective at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, closes on Sunday
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