Tracey Emin: My Life In A Column

'I have crept over to the other side. Goals and achievements aren't ahead - they're parallel'
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The Independent Online

I should be home by now, in my new studio - all five-and-a-half thousand square feet of it - working away like a Martian, having my head in full gear for Venice. But no! I'm still here, taking massive two-hour walks along the sand dunes and hanging out in funny little stationery shops buying faded old notepads.

Quite a few people have said to me (in Received Pronunciation): "Tracey, you must find it awfully inspiring here." And then they bombard me with a million thousand trillion questions about art. I raise my eyebrows and say: "Sorry but can we talk about the stock exchange or something?" You see, I'm on holiday. I'm not looking for inspiration. I wish for the complete opposite; for my work I become inspired by my own train of thought. To be able to think freshly and clearly, to be able to open up and expand, I need to get rid of loads of the old shit that's silting up my brainwaves, my sense of vision and my imagination. It's like emptying out my message box.

On a subconscious level, something big must be happening. I'm not sure if it's the malaria tablets, or Africa, but I am having the most amazing, vivid, incredible dreams. And the strangest thing is they are so rational, as if each one contains a message.

The other morning I heard knocking on the door. Then I heard a girl saying: "Please, please help me. I need food for my baby." My host let her in. Then the sound of mayhem - it was a gang of women looting the place. There was nowhere for me to hide. My room has no furniture. It's very minimal: huge bed made of concrete, high, high ceiling with the ebony beams painted with thin, black African stripes and a mosquito net that hangs from floor to ceiling. I cowered in the corner, clumsily trying to take off my gold chains and Nubian earrings, with the hope of hiding them. The door burst open. Four women, Indian looking, dressed in bright colours, stood there, one with a baby in her arms, another with a handmade pistol. They took off my gold and shoved me to the floor. I watched my chains disappear as they joined the rest of the swag. My grandma's wedding ring (my daughter's ring); the Turkish chains my brother had given me for being nominated for the Turner Prize; my handmade Nubian earrings I had bought myself as a present; my rose gold and old gold snake rings that Stephen gave me; my tiny antique chain from Eric, with my tiny gold key from New York; and, finally, my fucking Swatch watch. All gone into a giant bag of swag.

I looked at the woman with the baby and I said to her: "Why are you doing this?" She said: "I need food for my baby." "Yeah," I screamed, "but why are you stealing from other women? Women should help each other, not steal from each other!" To my amazement she agreed and gave me all my stuff back.

There I was, standing on the helm of an old pirate ship. I was with Sting and Trudie Styler. All their family were there, seated on brightly coloured silk cushions. As the ship gently drifted toward the mangroves, a wind started up. There was an order to set sail. To our astonishment, as the sail unfurled, a gust of wind caught it and a giant rip appeared. The sail was going crazy as the crew tried to hold it down. The sail was really old, white, made up of hundreds of different patches, all hand-sewn. Sting looked at me and said: "Tracey, you want it sent directly to your studio?"

Then, me and my Mum were on a boat. It was a bit like a scene from Death in Venice, but of course it was in Kenya. We stood in the boat upright. We were carrying a black canvas holdall. We placed the holdall into another bag. It was a very sad dream, just the last bit. I felt the obvious: that I should somehow put something to rest, to forgive.

My main problem here is that I have felt very, very old. Older than I have ever felt before. There are lots of young people here. They are very nice but they play music very loud - hard-core drum and bass. I ask them to turn it down. They apologise and smile at me respectfully because they see me as being so much older. Then there are the good-looking young beach boys: "Madam, you need a massage?" Shirley bloody Valentine - they wouldn't ask if I was 18!

Then I went to see a healer. A lovely little lady - aged 75 with the agility of a 15-year-old. She was great. She showed me how to do the lion's roar to release anger - hip swinging and eye rolling. All the moves made me feel 100 per cent better. She said I needed it as arthritis was setting in and I had to watch out for the vast amount of excess body weight that was coming as I headed towards my menopause.

I don't want to be 20 or 25 years younger; I just wish I were six or seven years younger. I have reached that age where I have crept over to the other side. Goals and achievements are no longer ahead, they are parallel. Everything I do, I do for me. There is a certain level of selfishness, which at the end of the day feels unsatisfying.

Yesterday I spent a good two hours sitting on the beach watching the ghost crabs perform, almost invisible against the sand. Hundreds of them scamper this way and that, sometimes being blown around in the wind. Their funny little claws digging away at the sand and then dumping it a few inches away. Their crazy little movements made me laugh. As I sat there thinking, and wishing I had a camera to film them, the tide suddenly washed over my feet. It rolled back, and all the crabs were gone. Then I realised that these tiny holes were the only things stopping the crabs from being washed away forever. It's time I stopped procrastinating and got back to work.

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