Tracey Emin: My Life In A Column

'My world is now truly glamorous: every girl's dream; except that, as a child, I didn't have many dreams'
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I'm sitting here in silence, looking at all the mess that's around me. I'm in the mood today to be completely distracted. I'm open to the outside world coming in; slightly spangly, as though, if I could find a way to truly relax, almost anything could happen. I am open to suggestion and I feel warm and generous. Today I have laughed much more than usual and I have had the clear ability to see and imagine friends in situations and unusual predicaments. I spent quite a long time on the telephone, and, with each conversation, part of me bounced around the world. I talked curtains in Moscow, jewels in Siberia, helicopters in Ireland, palazzos in New York, plantations in Uganda and salmon in Scotland.

My world has become truly glamorous and international: every little girl's dream; which is odd because, as a child, I didn't have many dreams or aspirations. I never really wished for anything. I was too busy focusing on the here and now. I think, possibly, from the age of three I actually started to think not from moment to moment, but more externally. I always somehow saw myself from the outside. I never imagined myself as a child, surrounded by the pink and fluffy, but more of a granite-like darkened force; an atmosphere of anti-matter and negative ions constantly surrounding me – a darkened living hole.

As a child there is not much that you can do about it, but as an adult you can mentally disperse the darkness. Or maybe just dig your way out. That's what I've done today. I have allowed friends to come close to me, and even by way of a telephone line it has somehow worked. Their affection has opened me up and made me feel less afraid. I left part of myself in bed today, part of me that I really didn't like very much. As I sit here now, I can see a strange sliver of myself smeared on the pillow and the sheets. It will still be there when I go back to bed tonight, this dead, irritable, tired, miserable self. But, hopefully, the brighter side of me will overpower it, when we lie down and interlock.

By the time I was 11, I loved the idea of travel, and I desperately wanted to learn another language. The top stream for English at my school had the privilege of learning French. I was in the third stream. After my first year I was put up into the top set in English. I was so excited that I was going to learn French.

I was the only person learning French who wasn't also in the top set for maths, and unfortunately the French lessons coincided with my maths classes. So my school, to solve a simple problem, put me down a set in English. Hey presto – no French, problem solved.

I went home and cried. I can see myself now at 12 years old, skinny, bent over my Mum's dressing table, shaking, tears streaming down my face. It's not like I could just go and get some French lessons, or even go and buy learn-to-speak French cassettes. That was my chance gone.

I always see this as a pivotal moment in my education, where, sadly, the cynicism began. My the time I was 13 I had a completely different attitude towards learning. I was more interested in the Springboard Effect. The Springboard Effect was a term that I had come up with for sleeping with people. When I say sleeping, I mean sex. Full-blown penetrative sex. I felt that every time I slept with someone new, I was somehow sent to another place. At the age of 14 I wouldn't have known what metaphysical meant, as a word, but I understood it as a reality. I couldn't travel and I couldn't experience the exotic, but I could experience the journey of passing through somebody else. I really believed that after sex with someone new I was in another place.

I tried to explain this to my geography teacher when he was trying to persuade me to do O-level geography. He kept saying to me: 'Tracey, you're naturally gifted, you have an intense interest in rock formation, map reading, continental drift, everything from volcanoes, tidal waves, deserts, tundras and avalanches. You have a natural gift for these things." I remember just sitting and saying: "But Sir, I love geography but I've found another way of learning about places. The Springboard Effect." I didn't go into all the graphic detail, but I said it was by knowing other people. He actually said it was my only chance of getting an O-level and I should do geography.

I often wonder how life would have turned had I taken Mr. Hartley's advice instead of sleeping with half of Margate. The Queen of Contour Lines instead of a simple Margate Princess.