Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"The only thing I have is me"

One of my hobby-horses is that since the Cultural Revolution, adolescence lasts from about 14 to 43. Then it's time to grow up. Which is just about bearable for us chaps but a bit tricksy if you're a girl who then decides you want babies. Even more if you topped a couple in your youth.

Tracey Emin is 45.

She's been depressed for months pondering her life, the “children thing”, she tells me, again and again. It's getting to her. Where are they? Why doesn't she have any? Will she ever?

One thing that astonishes her is how much she has changed recently. She can't believe she's the same person who told Jeremy Paxman in 1997 that if she were in charge of Britain she would introduce 24-hour drinking. I asked her what would be on her wish list now and she comes out with a whole roll of sensible suggestions such as more cycling routes and tennis courts, better schools and never having said “yes” to the Olympics. She's annoyed that despite all the taxes she pays, the quality of life in Britain is so bad; that it can be dangerous to walk down the street at night.

She first noticed this change about two years ago and it's been at the root of all her blackest moods ever since. When she was younger she made a pact with herself to have her first baby at 40, once she had £1 million in the bank and had passed her driving test (“If you've ever been brought up poor, without food, without heating, without plimsolls, with holes in things, with no Christmas presents or Christmas, you do not ever want to have children to be in that situation.”) So now she's passed her test, has a property empire of sorts - bought a place for her mother - but still no kids. In an interview last year it looked as though she'd accepted this state of affairs, but she seems wobblier now: “A few months ago I got very scared about the idea of dying alone, getting old alone because not many people do it - they have families.”

“When we first got together when I was 32 I said to him ‘when I'm 40 I will want to have a baby'. And then he left me when I was 39!”

Has she written off the prospect of having children at all? “Every day I'm writing it off. I'm adjusting to not having them. I knew it would do my head in around the time...And also I got p***ed off because I'm quite a good woman so I was thinking, ‘but I'm obviously not good enough to have someone's children'. It's pretty irritating. Never have been. No one's ever wanted me to.”

The future is freaking her out and even the present she's finding hard to cope with. She always thought the brilliant thing about not having kids “is that you can do what the f*** you like, but I don't want to do what the f*** I like. I can do anything. I can travel around the world, I can stay up all night drinking, I don't have to answer to anyone. But I don't want to be like that anyway.” For the first time in her life she's bored when she goes out, would rather be at home reading a book. “I do all the charity work and, sometimes I question the whole big scheme of things. How does it all work? What's it all for? If I was a grandmother I'd have this other kind of arc where things go but I don't have an arc. The only thing I have is me.”

This is what she meant in her photographic self-portrait, I've Got it All, which shows Emin giving birth to a pile of banknotes: “I was saying I haven't actually got anything, that's it. There's no other level of fecundity that's coming out of me except this material one. The raw stuff, the thing that propels people through life, that's not happening to me.”