Tracey Emin: My Life In A Column

'Sometimes at Christmas I don't open presents at all. I leave them wrapped up until February'
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The Independent Online

Welcome back to reality, Tracey. I like the beginning of this but I'm not really sure where it's going. My world has literally been turned upside down. Day into night, night into day, jet-lag unbeknown to the comprehension of man.

Usually in this situation I would get very angry with myself but this time I am just going with it, in and out of strange sleep, enjoying the most incredible dreams. It's as though nothing is wasted, everything slightly heightened and spectacular. I dream of a pine forest and I wake up smelling the pines. I walk across a beach and I can feel the sand slipping between my toes. Everything is so super-real and magical that I have to be careful when I am alone not to slip into a fake state of euphoria. I say fake, because I am still mentally in a place where I can't trust the situation.

The not-drinking still feels like a game, a game that I seem to be really good at. But combined with the jet-lag insomnia it has some really good positive points. I read 100 pages of a book the other night. I've been to a really good party, for the artist Conrad Shawcross. It was probably the first party I have been to in around 25 years where I didn't have a drink and I left feeling jolly and enlightened. Once I got home I was wide, wide awake. It was 2am and I started to browse through my books. Now I have a strange concoction of books. It isn't like a library; it's like my own personal little bookshop, consisting of my future and my past.

A few years ago I had this really stupid idea, based on the notion that I am a woman who doesn't need anything and every birthday I get given thousands and millions of presents of things that I don't want. Not to sound too spoilt, one year I just cried because of the avalanche of gifts I couldn't cope with it. I was exactly the same as a child; I really had a big difficulty in opening up presents. Sometimes at Christmas I don't open any presents at all. I leave them wrapped up until February or March, to a point where it just becomes embarrassing and I have to open them. It's a psychological thing. I have the exactly same attitude towards letters.

Anyway, back to the big stupid idea. I decided on my birthday to tell people to either give money to the Terence Higgins Trust, or give me a book. I now have about 200 books that I didn't choose. In some ways it's very exciting, as I said, the little bookshop syndrome. On the other hand, to have six copies of Allen Carr's How To Stop Smoking is quite nausea-inducing. I have never read a self-help book in my life, but you wouldn't think that to look at my bookshelf. The other night, when I browsed along the shelves, I got really excited, I pulled out the letters of Henry Miller, whichI have read, poems by Lord Byron and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe.

The Alan Sillitoe book was a really old copy, 1961; the print inside was from another era and the pages yellow and slightly musty. The front cover had a picture of Albert Finney and the back of the book had wonderful quotes from newspapers as a "must-read". Even though it was the fifth print run, there was only the tiniest mention of Alan Sillitoe's name. It didn't even say "Alan Sillitoe" it just said "Sillitoe" printed very tiny on the spine. Anybody would think that Albert Finney had written the book. Yes, Albert Finney, British literary genius. I started reading the book and before I knew it, it was 6am and I had read more than 100 pages.

Fucking hell, Alan Sillitoe is a good writer! What is so amazing about this book is that I had read it before, 25 years ago but I had no memory of the detail. In fact up until the other night, I had always referred to it as Friday Night, Saturday Morning, even though I knew exactly which book I meant. The joy of not drinking is I can go to sleep with Alan Sillitoe and wake up with myself. No fear of losing the page. Everything precisely imprinted into my mind a place for my imagination to travel, in amazing literary graphic genius.

For someone not drinking, I seem to have gone to a hell of a lot of parties. After the initial 10 minutes of everyone telling me how well I look, I start mooching around, socially mooching, hungry for a good conversation, desperate for some wicked wit, eager for sexual intelligence. As the night goes on, one by one, the people surrounding me fade off into the fuzzy world. It used to be me that was fuzzy. I would be a walking fuzzy state. No one could really touch me or talk to me; they would just bounce off my wire-wool exterior. Even the places and the people that I feel most familiar with, I feel somehow locked out of. But I suppose this is just a phase that one goes through.

I haven't said "mice" for ages. My lucidity is alarming. I have even taken to driving on the roads. Never before have I felt that I have 24 hours a day and all the time belongs to me. So happy Christmas, with all my love, from your very happy designated driver.

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