Tracey Emin: My Life In A Column

'There were no souls, no ghosts, in that graveyard. The ocean breeze had blown them all away'
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The Independent Online

It's 3.20am. I have just woken up. I'm staring at the TV. A nature programme fills the screen. Fields of marsupials, eagles and hawks; adventurous landscapes and prehistoric lizards resembling extras from Jurassic Park. I'm looking at the whole of Australia through a tiny screen, almost, without sounding corny, as if I am looking through the eye of a needle. Exotic coloured birds that have the appearance of being mystical, birds that I have never seen before. I am scrunched up on the sofa exhausted, as jumping squirrels with really cute little faces fly from one tree to the next.

I feel instantly comforted, which is unfortunate because I have to stay awake to write this column. My eyes keep closing and as my lids fold I feel a shudder go through my body – I must keep awake! I've never missed a deadline on this column before; drunk, sober, flying, stranded, ill or brokenhearted. I have never missed a deadline.

But today is close. Today my mind is all scrambled up and my body feels bruised and battered. I was knocked off my bike today. One of those incidents when my whole life flashes before me and everything moves in slow motion. The taxi door swings open and I slam on my brakes and end up sprawled across the centre of the road. It seemed like I was laying there for a thousand years; trapped by the weight of fear, my mind telling me, "Tracey. Get up! Get up! Get up! Get up!" I mentally assessed the damage and then, jumping to my feet and shaking uncontrollably, I heard myself say to the woman who had opened the door: "You stupid fucking cow. You could have killed me!"

Field mice have just jumped on to my screen, tiny, tiny little things dappled in the early morning sunlight, curled up in the ears of corn. I really want to go to sleep. I want to be curled up in ears of corn. I feel that I want to be loved and carried around in someone's pocket.

I feel terrible for the woman. I feel terrible for my tirade of abuse. The cars all stopping behind me, the people from the café watching me, the kind lady bringing me a cup of coffee, the nice man mending the brakes on my bike. All of this attention when I just wanted to get on my way, get on with my life.

Tiny koalas eating regurgitated eucalyptus: skinny little things with no fur and quite strange ears.

Every day I go for a walk. I walk from North Bondi to Bronte Beach. It's a good walk along the coast. It's about four kilometres. I like my walk a lot. It's hot and sweaty and humid in amongst the bracing ocean breeze, up and down steps, along cliff edges past ancient Aboriginal sites. Up and over to Tamarama Beach, a beautiful small bay with giant surfing waves. I watch the surfers as they lie on their boards resembling baby seals. I watch as they wait for the next big wave up and over to Bronte Beach.

And sometimes I go further. For, countless times, I have looked across from Tamarama Bay to the next hill and I have seen rows of white lines neatly spread like a furrowed field. I never believed it could be a graveyard, something so white and light, almost effervescent-looking. It's only when I pushed myself further on my walk that I came across the graveyard with the ocean view. Some of the graves were giant and monumental and others were low key and discreet. Names like Barry Johnson; Alice Wallace; Lindsey McCarthy; Adele Jones. Names like any other names but sounding very Antipodean. Dates reading 1856; 1890; 1911; 1965. Hundreds and hundreds of graves neatly spread out like an amphitheatre, cascading down the cut-out cliff and each grave having the perfect view. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be buried there, to decide that this would be your resting place. Thrilled with the prospect, as you're put into the ground, that you will have the perfect view.

I stayed in the graveyard for a long time, passing the graves of Henry Lawson and other great characters from Australian history. All the time I had a sense that there were no souls there, no ghosts, no apparitions. Nothing to be afraid of. And I realised the ocean breeze had blown them all away. This was a fast exit point to the next world. I wondered whether these people who had chosen this as their last piece of real estate had realised that what they had invested in had been the fast track. All day today, everywhere I have been I have felt that I have been followed by a shadow and occasionally to my right I had seen the shadow. It felt like the shadow was death and it made me feel afraid and vulnerable and somehow more detached.

A small mouse is building a nest out of leaves. It's now entering fast scratchy relations with another mouse. I wonder what it must be like to have mouse sex. The thought puts a smile across my face. Dead trees from a creek, branches break off and fall into the water. Vultures fly from a perch. The shadow is back again. I think about the woman I shouted at and I think about the tears rolling down her face. I look at my bruised hand and feel my aching back and the kangaroos boxing on the screen and I think about the shadow and at the same time I realise how lucky I am.

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