Tracey Emin: My Life In A Column

'The pressure to love and be loved is extraordinary. Maybe some people are put on this planet to be singular units'

Friday 15 February 2008 01:00 GMT

I write this column on Thursday. Today is Valentine's Day. Ever since I was a child it's been a day of purgatory. A day of anticipation and a complete realisation of nothingness; more nothingness than any other day of the year, regarding love.

The most exciting thing that ever happened to me on Valentine's Day was being chased by a flasher at Euston underground station. I say exciting, but of course it wasn't exciting, it was petrifying. I had to jump down a flight of stairs and then threaten to smash his balls to pieces with my umbrella. I remember his dick quite clearly and his yellow, ill-looking face. I just felt so sorry for him. His lack of love and his isolation was so much greater than mine.

I remember going back to my rooms just off the Edgware Road and lying on a mattress on the floor. It was a basement flat, and I could hear the Tube trains rattling underneath. I remember my heart and chest heaving. I just cried and cried and cried.

Apart from that, every Valentine's Day for the past 44 years (or shall I say the 35 years since it's meant anything), has just drifted into the next day. The idea of actually receiving a card and being tickled, being excited, the promise of future love, is really quite beautiful. I often send my friends missives relating to love: wishing them love, wishing them passion, the ability to love freely.

It really is a painful time of year. It's cold and it's dark and if you are alone it's even colder and darker. The headspace closes in like barn doors on the light. The eyes close and the mind shuts down. Curled up in bed, not even ignoring the winter sunlight, just not believing that it's there. The pressure in this world to love and be loved is extraordinary. Maybe some people are just put on this planet to be singular units, to be fuelled by perpetual motion.

The spinster with the cat who lives at the end of the street. She's always really friendly, every year she gives the newsagents a Christmas card and they give her a Toblerone. She never expects any Valentine's cards, but she'll give a cursory glance to the space below the letterbox. But seriously, who's going to know that she's there? One day in her sixties and she comes down the stairs, tea tray in hand, ancient cat following behind, is she going to spy the large pink envelope with the majestic handwritten script addressed to "The beautiful women with the dark brown eyes and the long grey hair." And inside the words:

For years I have watched you


Sometimes I see you at your door,

it's ajar

You are, you are, you are, I

wonder who you are?

You, my grey-haired maiden

who lives alone,

If you would be my queen,

I would place you on my throne

Even though you don't know me

and I don't know you

There are so many things we

can share

So many things we can do.

We are,

Afar, afar, afar,

But one day we shall be united,

In our gilded lover's star.

The lonely spinster thinks: "Oh my God, I just hope I never meet the person who sent me this!" That evening she settles down to have a game of chess with her cat.

This Valentine's has been especially cruel to me, as the only thing I received in the post today was my accounts for the last tax year. I'm now going to go down to the Government, knock on their door, and say: "I've come to collect my Exocet missile. I don't actually want it, but as I've paid for it I feel obliged to pick it up. I gather I haven't quite paid for the warhead yet? Next instalment should do it."

Why don't we all just stop paying tax and hold the Government to ransom and tell them what our taxes should be used for? It could all really work out nicely because there will be those out there who really believe, and in some cases rightly so, that defence is a priority, and people like me who believe education is the backbone of all civilisation. I would like to allocate my taxes to education. You might want to allocate yours to recycling, and your taxes can go towards paying for a new recycling plant. You might have grave concerns about the National Health Service, so your taxes can be allocated to providing a cleaner, safer, more efficient system. And then there's science, the arts, culture. All things have value – but the point is that we take responsibility for the world in which we want to live. The majority of people in this world are good; they are not born evil incarnate. Human nature usually only becomes dirty when it has to fight for survival.

When we are tired, we can't fight, we just curl up and give up. Shut down all our resources and just wish for the pain to go away. I have spent most of today trying to work out what could make my life happier, how I could be more content. I seem to spend so much time running away from things; occasionally I do a fast U-turn, screaming, mouth open wide. But it doesn't matter how loud I scream, it's almost what's expected of me. It appears to be my natural habitat. That's because people can't hear tears. At least I have that poem to look forward to... Valentine's is over.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in