Tracey Emin: My Life In A Column

'Sometimes I think that we are all victims of the evil mystery of where time disappears to'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

I shouldn't be writing this. I should be in my studio, painting. I should be wearing my really tight, stretchy shorts with my white apron and my legs splattered in acrylic pink and white and a Wall's vanilla colour.

I should be listening to really loud music, bouncing around in a drum, not knowing which way is up, but feeling spiritually free, pringling and pottering, excited by the fear of mark-making. I can see myself there now, really clearly. I wonder if I've got another self, who has been astrally projected, who's doing what I actually want to be doing.

Painting and creating is not working. For me it is just being; it's me being me. I can drive around in my fast car, wearing my really nice clothes, with my beautiful diamond bracelet, celebrating the trinkets of my success, but they are all external to me. "Me" is how I feel naturally at home. Everything running through my veins properly. The ends of my fingertips being me, the joints of my knees being totally me. When I bend and crouch, resting on my haunches. That is a complete me.

Sitting at a desk, back slouched, chin in palms, eyelids closed, mouth down is me – but not the me I like, because that me is on the sickly side. She is vulnerable and easily damaged; repairable but slightly saggy, only the chair keeps her in place. Head could wobble off at any minute.

The only me I like at the moment is Backstroke Woman. She's a mean machine; propelled by flippers, arms moving through the water like the sails of a windmill. The cobalt blue being sliced with grace and precision. Chest heaving high out of the water, head held back as far as possible. Sighs of release as the air escapes my lungs are the only times I feel alive. I stare up at the ceiling and I look down upon myself. I try to imagine myself as high as possible past the ceiling, past the roof of the bank, above the swimming pool, floating way above the cumulus clouds, up into the golden light of the sun. And there, down below, miles and miles below, is tiny Backstroke Woman – pulling herself through the water, praying that everything is going to be all right. Yes, this is the only way I like myself at the moment.

I don't like being an artist who isn't making art. I see it as a failing, mentally and physically. I am not waiting for the next great idea and I am certainly not looking for it. The great ideas are here, weighting me down, giving me migraine headaches, making me feel sick and bilious, swamping and suffocating me, due to my lack of time.

Time. All these people, half an hour of this, half an hour of that. Wednesday the 27th, Thursday the 29th, Wednesday the 5th, Sunday just for a couple of hours, 10 minutes around 6.30pm, 15 minutes on the phone, it will only take us half an hour to set up, we will be out of your hair within an hour – OUT OF MY HAIR, MY WHOLE BRAIN HAS BEEN CONTAMINATED BY YOUR FUCKING APPOINTMENT!

How much do I have to cancel which is for me? Those really nice personal things that I was really looking forward to. And how many meetings do I agree to, which facilitate other people? I don't think this just happens to me. I think that we are all victims of this evil mystery of where time disappears to.

I wake up really early, around 6am, just so I can lay around thinking about whatever I want. Most of the time we have to think about what we are doing, what we have to do right now. I like to think about whether cats listen to music, and if they do, what kind of music do they like, and do they hum the kind of music that they like? What do cats hum like? How do cats hum? Do giraffes smile? Are they happy animals? At first we think they are slightly melancholy but, then again, I would imagine they would have a wicked sense of humour, slightly all knowing, very secretive.

I want to spend time thinking about things like that – not about how to juggle my day. I don't want to be a juggler; dropping bits and pieces everywhere, feeling inadequate, never quite reaching the mark. I want to feel more complete, more happy with myself, not frozen, scared by the lack of time.

Yesterday, I walked through Threadneedle Street, tears streaming down my face, unashamed, just walking. I couldn't see the point of stopping and cowering in some Masonic stone doorway to wipe away the tears, knowing they would only start again. I didn't mind about the tears – I just wish I had been walking through fields or plains, somewhere open, somewhere with a 360-degree view. Somewhere I didn't feel trapped.

But emotional entrapment follows us to the end of the world. It is a fallacy that I make my best work on emotional trauma. When I am sad or unhappy I make nothing. I become frozen and locked inside myself. To be an artist we need all the ego, but we need to be able to step out of it. And sometimes in life, that stepping out is just too difficult – even for the likes of Backstroke Woman.