Tracey Emin: My Life in a Column

'When I'm miles from home I sometimes have a clear view - and God, my life's a mess'
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The Independent Online

I can't write my column this week, so I have to write a letter. In my heart I'd like to make it a love letter. All my dreams, my emotions, aspirations and desires.

NY's a weird place. As a city it has the ability to push so many people to extremes. So much light and yet no light at all. The kind of place you have to be very careful about making decisions. It's why windows only open three inches. NY feels like an easy place to die. I was nearly killed yesterday in a taxi. I was in a deep sleep, the kind of sleep I dream about. Deep, deep, deep, almost comatose. Then lurch, thrust, screech - and I'm wide awake, like I can see for the first time.

I wish I wasn't so thick. Thick as in stupid. Sometimes I have the most amazing moments of clarity. Razor sharp, crystal clear. It's at these times I can see how fucking stupid I am. I have always thought and said, clarity = harmony. Sometimes I hate my loyalty. I hate the way it holds me hostage. My friend Vanessa once had a go at me for trying to be nice. She said to me in her fantastic Swedish Eurotrash accent "Fuck man, just be a bitch."

And with all her Euro worldly wisdom, she's so right. It's like people who are unfaithful, it's so obvious that it's so much better to tell the truth. Why undercut someone else's development? Because we are afraid of the truth. It really hurts. I hate telling it, feeling it, being it.

At the moment I'm in my hotel. I've just been crying. It's too much of a long story to go into. Tonight I am to give a lecture at New York's School of Visual Arts and my face has turned into crater mass for the first time in years, full-blown herpes. Nothing like an attack of scabs to kill your confidence. What am I supposed to say to a gang of art students young enough to be my children? One of my favourite pieces of advice given to young people was by the rap star Eminem. When asked his views on drugs he said in a very drawn-out Detroit way, "Hey kids, don't do drugs, just give them to me." There used to be this joke that went around playgrounds in Tottenham. If Tracey Emin married Slim Shady what would she be called? Em-em Em dan na da doon nan Em an em da na da doom. I thought it was funny and cool that the kids knew who I was.

People have children so their legacies can continue. It's cool being a recognised artist. You don't have the pressure to procreate. I have never had the breeder mentality, but sometimes I just want to make love. The idea that love can last forever. The most beautiful kiss in the world.

When I flew here on Tuesday I was afraid. I was very tired and exhausted. I went to sleep and I woke up to be told, "If you look to your left, we will be passing Edinburgh, and to your right Glasgow." I blew a kiss to Glasgow and I thought, Oh my God, Hurricane bloody Wilma. I curled up in a small foetal position and tried to remember lovely things - being held, being loved, being wanted, not rejected. Rejection is, I think, one of the most terrible things in the world, when someone says I don't want you, I reject you. But even in death you can feel rejected. All my life I've felt left behind.

When I was young I used to have this amazing dream that I'd be standing by a cliff, looking out to sea. The sea had disappeared, leaving rocks covered in seagrass and weed. Rock pools and fish flapping. When I think, it was strangely biblical, and there, miles away, the white line of the horizon. And as I look, the line moves closer and closer with a sound so intense it is deafening, a giant wave. I turn towards the cliff, but it's futile, so I face back towards the wave. It hits me, and within seconds it recedes as fast as it has come, and I am left wet and standing.

As a child this repetitive dream would almost kill me with fear, and now I long for it to return. It is so obvious - sometimes the things we are most afraid of cannot actually hurt. It's the sentimentality of holding on that hurts. When I'm miles away from home I sometimes have a clear view on things, and at the moment all I can quite honestly say is, "God my life's a mess and there's some big house-cleaning to be done."

Years ago, Sarah Lucas (the artist) said to me, "What you up to Trace?" I said, "I'm really busy throwing tons of stuff away." When she said "What?" I said, "The 1980s."

Humour always overrides fear. Tonight I'm in one of the most exciting cities in the world. Alone. I'm going to curl up in bed and watch The Evil Dead. There this terrible scene where a tree rapes a woman. First some ivy grabs her legs and then, well, you can guess! My point is that I will get over my fear of trees and one day I shall sit in a log cabin, in a forest, at night, surrounded by the bloody things. But I shall think of them as my friends. Majestic giants, but I'm not too sure if I'm ready to do that one alone.

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