Tracey Emin: My Life In A Column

'I tend to say sorry every 10 minutes. When I've been drunk, I've said some of the cruellest things'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Without sounding too puerile, you'll never guess where I am! For people who know me well, my guessing games will come as no surprise. Guess how much this cost? Guess how long it took me? Guess how many old socks I found in a drawer? Guess how long it took me to fly from London to Sydney? Oops, I've just given the game away!

I'm sitting in the Sydney suburbs. It's a beautiful, lush green, sunny day. A cool autumn breeze blows through the window. The blind gently clanks. I can hear a soft ringing noise from the fire station next door. There's the fire station, a school and a very nice little church that has religious banners outside; grand, blasting statements that, whether you are religious or not, make you think.

Today's banner reads: "It's good to say sorry." Can't argue with that. I tend to say sorry about something almost every 10 minutes. All I have to do is start thinking and remembering and various degrees of sorryness fly through my mind. At times, I feel like I have been an utterly vile human being. When I've been drunk, I've said some of the most cruel, hurtful things; things that really seem to make no sense whatsoever. It makes me question truth to a really high degree. A screaming explanation of "that's how I felt at the time" or "I didn't mean it, I was drunk" or the best one, "I don't remember." "I don't remember" doesn't mean that I wasn't there.

I refer to these situations as "the walking dead". The darkest bit of hell having limbs, Beelzebub breathing through my voicebox. I can't go back. I can't start writing millions of letters: "Dear Dylan, I am so sorry I was so drunk in 2003, and nearly sabotaged the whole entire GQ Men of the Year Awards"; "Dear Melvyn Bragg and all organisers of the South Bank Show Awards and the Savoy Hotel, I'm really sorry I threw up on the carpet in public"; "To the cloakroom attendant in that club I don't remember somewhere in Mayfair, I'm really sorry I shouted at you when you couldn't find my bag that was hanging over my shoulder the whole time"; "To the mini-cab driver coming from North Finchley at some ungodly hour, who I insisted on letting me out of the car and leaving me exactly where I was because I didn't trust them..." Oh, the list is endless.

But most of all, the people who are close to me, who are really close to me, the ones who love me and care about me, the ones who don't want things to get worse, who want things to get better, the people who don't want to hate me, but want to love me more. They're the people I really want to say sorry to so much. But the best way to do that is to create change, not to say sorry; to be different, to show new energy – and belief in a better way of going forward.

When I was young, there was someone in our lives who was very drunk. She was my Mum's best friend, Margaret. She would come and stay with us for two or three weeks, and the first few days would be really good. Then things would get slightly sour, and finally they would be horrendous. Often with me screaming at Margaret, and with her shouting back saying the most cruel things. And sometimes my Mum would send me to find her. She would be crumpled up on the floor in some pub, drunk, crying like a little girl. I would have to try and get her home. Margaret was Austrian. She was blonde and feisty, and would be very happy sitting on a stool, drinking her halves of draught lager, winking and saying "skol" in a very Teutonic fashion. She could be lovely and fun and had a sweetness about her, the ability to make Mum very happy.

But you couldn't trust her. Not emotionally, because it would be like sitting around a timebomb. Towards the end of Margaret's life, I fell out with her quite badly. I made it up with her at the end, but Margaret definitely goes down as one of my biggest sorrys. Just recently I dreamt of her, and always in my dreams, she never says anything to me. She is often wearing white, like a mortuary gown, and she just stands or sits bolt upright. Her facial features are of a photograph that I saw of her in her early thirties, a 1960s bombshell. But always in these dreams, there is silence. She just turns and stares at me. When I wake up, I always try to imagine what she may be thinking about me. I often suppose that she is telling me to look after my Mum. But maybe that icy stare that fills me with some kind of strange guilt is telling me to look after myself. After all, the dream is mine.

So here I am in Sydney, trying to sneak just a few more weeks of sun into my life. And a chance to get my head really clear, before an onslaught of two years' solid work. I'm busy until the middle of 2010, but I guess most people are busy for the rest of their lives. I would really make a good dropout, if only I'd dropped in in the first place. I fantasise about disappearing into obscurity. While flying over here, the air steward, Simon, who was really lovely, asked how I felt about such long flights. I told him that I loved it. I loved the paradox: all safely cocooned in my first-class bed, being waited on hand and foot, no telephones, no emails, no one in the entire universe knowing exactly where I was. Cosy from the outside world, but at the same time being 36,000ft in the air, with an outside temperature of 52 below freezing, and certain death if something was to go wrong. So, on one level, completely safe, and on another level, in a state of fear. The perfect environment for someone like me.

I wish I could be content to live in a classic, cosy world. A world of simplicity, without ego and ambition. Without the edge of it. I've been like this since I was a little girl, all my life. On one hand, wanting to be tucked up cosy in my nightie, going to bed early, and on the other hand, doing mad rock'n'roll dancing at Birchington village disco. Even at the age of 12, everything was a huge contradiction. So I can blame it all on drink, I can blame it on my upbringing. I can throw the blame almost anywhere that suits me, but the blame falls firmly on myself. If I'm sorry for the things that I've done, then I have to live with that sorryness. For now, it's good being away from everything. It's good to have time to think, time to breathe, and maybe send a few letters. But you can't send letters to heaven.

Comments