Tracey Emin: My Life In A Column

'This week, someone sent me an email asking if happy was a feeling that actually existed in my life'
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The Independent Online

I seem to be going through mental and physical torture. I'm finding it very hard to be able to relax. This morning I woke up very early and lay in bed for an hour trying to think of ways in which I could relax. Even when I'm horizontal, flat out, I feel brittle, like my bones are made of ice, and as much as I would like them to simply just melt, they have far more chance of being crushed.

The first option was to go swimming, but I actually felt too tired. Sometimes the effort of hurling yourself into cold water head first and moving very fast relieves lots of pressure, lots of stress, and revives the soul so much that you're instantly charged and all tightness recedes to a distant place. But this morning my cranky bones weren't having any of it.

I lay there for as long as possible until, at the stroke of nine, I forced myself out of bed and made my way to the kitchen. Now, luckily for me, on opening the fridge door I came across the carcass of a half-eaten chicken. Soup making. This is a true, understated way to relax. I have been a soup maker since my mid-twenties. I never learnt to make soup. I never read a recipe and nobody ever showed me, although as a child I remember spending lots of time just chatting to my Nan as she casually put things into a large pot, with the end result being soup.

I find great pleasure in using everything that is left over and I give myself extra points if I don't have to go to the shops to buy something to add. There is just something so magical and brilliant about making something from nothing. I love to watch the stock seeping out of the bones, the clear water becoming a creamy, gingery, thickened juice. Some of the vegetables, like spinach, I chop really finely and the stock then takes on a greeny glow.

Everything has its order and I know that if I change the order, the soup actually tastes different. Just thinking about it is very soothing and contemplative. It is one of the few pastimes that makes me feel happy and content.

Everything else I seem to do in life feels somehow unresolved, incomplete, too rushed, tedious, or painful. I recall with melancholy a date when almost everything used to give me pleasure, and now everything seems to come in one giant great big basket.

I imagine a donkey walking towards me, lopsided, its loaded saddlecloth grossly ill-balanced. The beast of burden is weighted down on one side by my whole entire life.

I'm in Turkey. It's 1967, up in a village up in the mountains. My twin brother and I are looking through a gap in a fence. We are spying on children as they viciously throw stones at a donkey. My twin brother and I watch in complete confusion. It's the first time I had ever knowingly witnessed any degree of cruelty. It's incredible that at the age of three we know what is wrong and what is right. And what's even more incredible is that at the age of 44 I am still watching cruelty, of different degrees, powerless to do anything about it.

As a child, when something was wrong, the first course of action would be to scream, and as an adult often this is the last course of action. We just quietly carry on turning our backs on whole systems of atrocities. Occasionally we all get together in a group and try and do something about it.

But today my life feels pretty lop- sided, ungainly, ill-balanced. I feel like I don't have time to help anybody, speak up for anyone, or fight their corner. And this only exacerbates the situation of feeling like a shitty human being. I am desperate to regain some clarity in my life, to create a routine that I stick to. I never envy other people's lives but, now, I look back on my own and envy my youth so desperately. I envy the simplicity, the not-knowing naivety. I hate my now-calculated resistance to life. I want to just go with the flow. I want to feel more free, more liberated, I want to feel younger. I don't want to be like a cliché, like I have been over the last paragraph!

This week, someone sent me an email asking me if happy was a feeling that actually existed in my life. I thought about this and came to the very sad conclusion that probably all of my life happy was something I have always just been on the outside of. And the not drinking has made this even more obvious. You don't really change because you stop drinking. There is a chemical change, but deep down inside, in the deepest core, you are still the same – but less fun on the dance floor. My drinking was my best companion, to help me through my everyday intolerance to unhappiness. Now I feel that I live in a sea of mediocrity and I'm struggling with emotional ill adjustment, on my part, and I find it all around me. I need the beast of burden to carry me, not my life.

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