The Artistry of Anger

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Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia – August 2015

One simply must climb Dune 45 to watch the sunrise. At least that’s what all the travel guides and websites proclaim. We, however, are stopping only for a quick photo. Our guide, Christof, explained that we will climb Big Daddy instead. Dune 45 is the easier one, the one for older or less athletic people. Sometimes there are a hundred people at the top, jostling each other. The view is not as awe-inspiring as that from Big Daddy. Like many must-dos, Dune 45 is overrated. The two women seated in front of me begin to swear. One in German, the other in English. I have secretly named them La Pourriture. The Rot. Since yesterday, when they joined this leg of the safari, their silent hostility has seeped into the group. They are disappointed in everything and are taking it out on the rest of us. Now harsh words are exchanged with some of the others. They are poisoning the good vibe.

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As I watch the tiny people inching along the narrow crest of Dune 45, I contemplate whether I want to step in. I know I can diffuse it, at least a little. I know what to say. When we stop at the 4×4 shuttle to Big Daddy, I approach La Pourriture. Deep breath. I conjure up the language from my days as a travel agent. It’s upsetting to have a messed-up booking. However, the guide has no authority to deviate from his itinerary. There’s nothing you can do about it now, and your day will be ruined if you dwell on it. Try to have a good time, and definitely talk to your travel agent when you get home.

After a brief pause to process my words, they nod. Some of the tension dissipates.

The others compliment me on my diplomacy. I shrug. I did it with the indifference of crushing a nest of scorpions. I did it out of quiet gratitude for the most fascinating and diverse group of travelers, and the most endearing guide, I’ve ever met.

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Big Daddy rises before us. The locals call it Crazy Dune. Because you’ve got to be crazy to climb it. It is a star dune, shaped by the winds. Several arms radiate downward from the pinnacle in different directions. From above, it looks like a star. The ascent is best done barefoot. For every three steps up, you slide back down one step or more. It is an exercise in perseverance.

The Namib Desert is the oldest desert in the world. The estimated age of these dunes is five million years. The Bushmen called this sea of sand The Land God Created in Anger. I step into the vanishing footprints of those who went before, pausing to sweep my eyes over this paradise of desolation. Sand the color of smoldering embers. Swirls of black magnetite dust. Deep red shimmer of shattered garnet. The artistry of anger.

Christof halts at the first crest. The others have fallen far behind. He tells me that I can continue on, if I want. There is only one path. Legs and lungs warmed up, the ascent becomes less arduous. I pause only to take a couple of photos. I do not look back.

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Rage propelled me out into the world at age seventeen. I was going to show everyone that I wasn’t the loser they thought I was. I blazed a path around the planet and, over the many years, the rage gradually burned itself out, leaving behind the icy-hot cinders of contempt. Most of the sand has trickled out of the hourglass of my life. Not much enrages me anymore. I am disgusted that some humans feel the need to hunt endangered animals in order to replenish an abyss within. It irritates me when people say that I am a bad person, because I do not love humanity.

I once read a quote that stated that a person becomes a misanthrope, not because of a lack of empathy, but from having too much of it.

I get angry at those who say that no one should ever be angry about anything. The new religion is one of perpetual sunshine and rainbows. Its true believers rival Bible thumpers with their condescending and sanctimonious zeal. Anger, like every other so-called negative emotion, is part of existence. Anger motivates. Without it, we cannot evolve.

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photo credit: Isabelle Forest

As I take the final step to the summit, a surge of emotion moves through me and then evaporates. I exchange smiles of exhilaration with the strangers who arrived before me. I sit and burrow my feet into the warm sand. The dunes undulate into the horizon like waves of molten lava. Vast Place of Nothingness is what the Nama call this land. This is what I feel now: a beautiful emptiness. In certain places that I have visited in the past, I have felt grateful euphoria. The it’s-okay-if-I-die-now feeling. But there was still the aching desire to see more of this glorious planet. This time is different. I don’t ever want to go anywhere else. Ever again.

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After a long while, the others appear. One by one. Christof kneels beside me and collects grains of magnetite using a magnet hidden inside a piece of paper. Our group descends the slipface towards the beige pan of Deadvlei. I sink my feet in and savor the luxurious slide. Three British guys somersault, cartwheel, and bodysurf down. Christof materializes beside me. “It brings out the child in people,” he says with a smile.

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The desiccated forest of Deadvlei looms ahead. Ancient trees frozen in time. Petrified wraiths. Josef reclines on the dune, reading the Psychology of Jung. Today is Kenza’s birthday. Melanie and Robert and Christof chat about facts. Isabelle wanders off on her own, accompanied by her camera. We coalesce, and then disperse again into our own daydreams. We are all specters in this collective hallucination. La Pourriture has disappeared. Sucked into their own vortex, surely.

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I let my camera fall by my side. The light is too grainy and muted and I am too spaced out with wonder to focus. I never want to go anywhere else. Ever again.

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*Minimal editing was done on these photos. The second to last has a little color manipulation of the sky, but otherwise the hues are real. The varied color of the dunes is due to the constantly changing light.

86 thoughts on “The Artistry of Anger

    • Hopefully your itinerary includes climbing Big Daddy. We climbed Dune 45 afterwards and the view was nowhere near as spectacular. Wishing you an awesome voyage. 🙂 Be prepared to be astonished.

    • Thank you, Robin. I doubt my hot temper will ever totally fade. The guide apologized for the less-than-ideal condition of the light for taking photos. Apparently August is the time of “strange weather”. However, I think it’s probably impossible to take a bad photo of this place.

  1. This is once again beautifully written in the way it interweaves both an internal and an external journey. And as was the case with your Tatra National Park post, both words and pictures make me want to follow in your footsteps, or at the very least get the hell away from my desk.

    Oh, and trust me, it doesn’t take much to bring out the child in a British guy.

  2. A place beautiful in its vastness and emptiness. But don’t the dunes change size and shape with time due to the wind?

    Another interesting read. We are all propelled by different forces to reach our perceived goals. I hope “The Rot” was quelled for the remainder of their time with you. You were very diplomatic, even if you didn’t mean to be.

    • These dunes are pretty stable, but they do slightly grow and change shape with time. One member of The Rot became relatively friendly by the end of that day. There was really no hope for the other one. It seems she took a wrong turn on her way to Ibiza.

  3. Poetically written, you create an atmosphere where the reader can share your experience in the fullest way.

    Where there is no anger, there is no passion; where there is no passion, there is no art.

    • It is really beyond words. These photos don’t come close to capturing the 360 degree view of this seemingly infinite sea of sand. Truly the most breathtaking place I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of amazing places.

  4. Those photos, Julie, some look like paintings, the colors and hues are so rich. Wow. Thanks for sharing your adventure. I,too, was propelled by anger at 17, it certainly motivated me. A lovely post with amazing images…nice to see you, if only from behind !! Hugs. 💕

  5. A beautifully rendered post. I especially appreciated your reflections on empathy and misanthropy, no doubt because I relate so well to them. Thank you for a lovely read (and photos) over my morning coffee.

  6. Seeing infinity in zillions of sand grains, as amply depicted in your fabulous presentation. Sand dunes are certainly one of nature’s many art forms; I have seen it in India, in Egypt, across the nearly three hundred mile road stretching from Muscat to Dubai, and can claim to have climbed a few that are molehills in comparison to those featured here. Your take on anger, empathy and misanthropy is interesting, Julie. Every emotion, adorning the tapestry of human behaviour, is there with a purpose, not good or bad in itself, but becomes so in the manner in which it actuates one’s life. The virtuous person is not conscious of it and hence remains as such, whereas the person who is conscious of her or his virtue, ends up losing it…best wishes.

  7. It has been on my short list for some time. Great post, great subject – both the desert and anger. I’m definitely on the same page with you. I try to be light and love, in is in there but then the world it intrudes and before you know it I am again raging against the machine. Thanks.

    • Namibia was one place that I was also most intrigued by. I thought it was out of reach, like everything that seems too perfect. It’s difficult to feel light and love all the time when we live in such dark times. Those who say that they do are full of it.

  8. My deer friend …I’m breathless with admiration for you , who you are . This ” paradise of desolation ” is full of your haunting spirit and you continue to “blaze” that path you so majestically share not only around the planet but into my lonely heart …thankyou Julie , so much . Your writing is thought provoking when I hear your quiet whisper amongst the soft yet strong flow of your words…you are beautiful ! love , megxxx

    • I saw many deer-like creatures there, Meg. Springbok, oryx, kudu. The female kudu, peering out of the leafless forest (it was still winter) made me think of you. Their curiousity was stronger than their wariness. Be well, dear one. 💜

    • Thank you. The view from the top was pretty close to ideal, I think. But down in Deadvlei, dust from above obscured the sky. I was disappointed, at first, but then I decided to soak up the atmosphere rather than worry about taking photos. I also resisted the urge to turn my photos of Deadvlei into b/w or use heavy editing. I wanted to show it as it was.

  9. The sort of country I could disappear into and not come out for weeks or months, there’s just so much story out there without any clutter. Here it’s blowing a gale today as Winter has its last throws before rolling out of the way for Spring. Such a glorious cool coastal desert is the Namib, while another I admire from afar is the Atacama Desert. One day, but for now there are enough deserts here with their own diversities.

    • Hi Sean, I sure could have stayed there for months. It really grabs a hold of you. Sossusvlei is a bit inland from the coast, but we passed by some of the coastal dunes of the Skeleton Coast on our way there. No time to linger, but oh how I wish.

  10. This post couldn’t of been better timing for me to read this morning as I was not able to fall asleep out of anger at 2:00 a.m. so I got up at 3 and was at work at 4a.m.
    I cried when I seen the picture of you. I looked at the picture and imagined me being there with you and it took my anger away. When I visit you, this will be the place I would love to visit, would you be willing to go again? The trees don’t even look real. Amazing. Keep traveling and keep up your awesome writing skills because you have no idea the impact it has on the person who reads it and views the pictures as well.

  11. So well written Julie. I am familiar with Namibia as family members worked there from 2011-2013. Health issues prevented me from traveling, but your photos and writing transported me to an essence of Namibia they had difficulty conveying. With you, I feel the magic.

  12. You carry me to the far ends of the globe with every one of your posts. Anger – great topic and one that carries so much baggage for there is a unspoken understanding that “anger” is the antithesis of “good behaviour” and something to be feared. It has stopped the conversation and limited our ability to explore all aspects of this emotion. Thank you for creating a wonderful space for ongoing dialogue.

    • Thanks to the “positive thinking” self-help movement, anger and sadness and all of their variations are seen as diseases to be eradicated. Heaven help you if you’re pessimistic about anything. You are destroying the world! So much better to stifle it and let it fester and SMILE.

      There’s a book I really want to read called The Antidote:Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13721709-the-antidote) . I’ve noticed that many people who are comfortable with anger and pessimism have a great sense of humor.

      • I have ordered “The Antidote” via the Vancouver Public Library. It should be delivered within a couple of weeks – looking forward to the read. A couple of years ago I read “Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.” by Barbara Ehrenreich. It was a very interesting discussion, one that resonated with my personal experience.

        http://www.amazon.ca/Bright-sided-Relentless-Promotion-Positive-Undermined-ebook/dp/B002SKDGQ0/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1442272386&sr=1-1&keywords=brightsided

        “In other words, it requires deliberate self-deception, including a constant effort to repress or block out unpleasant possibilities and ‘negative’ thoughts. The truly self-confident, or those who have in some way made their peace with the world and their destiny within it, do not need to expend effort censoring or otherwise controlling their thoughts.” Barbara Ehrenreich, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America

        • You’re lucky to have access to a library. Unfortunately, that’s not my case. At least not an English library. Anyway, “Bright-sided” sounds like a great read, too. That quote is absolutely brilliant. Thanks a lot. 🙂

  13. wow! Namibia is on my travel list from a very long time! Such beautiful photos Julie! It’s umpleasant indeed when you travel with people unsatisfied of everything… but I’m sure in any case you enjoyed the trip!Cris

    • Hi Cris – I’d never traveled with a group of strangers before on an organized tour, so I was a bit wary. Namibia is impossible to travel around independently unless you rent a vehicle. I didn’t think it was wise for me, because I would be alone and those long, deserted roads are not a good place for a truck to break down. And break downs, flat tires, etc, occur all the time. Anyway, I decided beforehand that even if everyone was unpleasant I wouldn’t allow them to spoil my good time. These ladies didn’t have any effect on me, but they were starting to upset some of the others. Hopefully you can go there soon. You will love it.

  14. I wanted to sink my feet in that sand! Must find a travel agent who can get my booking wrong immediately 🙂
    I’ve seen lots of photos of this place and the surrounds, Julie, but I’m ever so glad I came with you today. And that you found a good guide.

  15. Hi Julie, You made it to the Namib…gorgeous….such exquisite hues and shapes! Delighted to hear that most of your companions and your guide were enjoyable…

    In large part, I have a similar response to the Nevada desert…it feels as if the beauty and vastness there occupy my inner self, displacing neuroses and all else that is tainted… Exposed lands, these are paradoxically unearthly…here’s to their grainy tonic… Viv

  16. This is stunning in every way. The photos, which are magical, and the prose, which is raw in its power and refined in its execution. I did not expect the message any more than I would have anticipated Namibia’s beauty. I am intrigued … not a good thing for my wallet … thanks!

    • Thank you. Going there might actually help the wallet. This was two weeks ago, and I swear that the itch to travel anywhere is still gone. I’m sure it will creep back, but for now I’m enjoying the fulfilled feeling.

  17. I love how tiny the people look… I didn’t know you’d worked as a travel agent… Me too, though mostly I’ve worked in aviation. But still dealing with the same pax. In both good and bad…. Interesting story, as always your writing is so engaging. Great photos, too!

    • Thank you. It’s probably impossible to take a bad photo there. The people really show the scale of how massive the dunes are. I loved being a travel agent, but, yeah, there are those who really love to look for things to complain about.

  18. Thank you for transporting me to this magical place I may never see in physical form… And thank you for expressing your misanthropy – which I share completely – in such a poetic way – the right way!

  19. Wonderful photos! I hadn’t previously realized or contemplated the relative solidity of the dunes– both in time and physical scale. The pictures of people hiking up their curving spines were breathtaking.

    Anger is profoundly necessary I think, and we can’t get there from here by covering over our natural instincts and reactions. The troublesome part for me is often in the expression… in the need to make those around us wrong or “less than” so that we can be more comfortable expressing it. Like so many emotions, there is the openness to the feeling of it, and the complex tapestry of insights they afford us– and the expression of it, where we face choices as ever about the impacts we wish to have upon those around us.

    Your writing is so very rich. I love visiting here.

    Michael

    • Hi Michael – I agree that anger often manifests itself in inappropriate ways: few are able to take responsibility for their own disappointments as well as their own happiness. It’s all projected onto others – as was the case with the two charming ladies in my group. Thank you so much for adding your thoughts. –Julie

  20. Great post, with excellent pictures and mental images!

    I grew up in a desert, with the exception of three years spent in the lush, fertile, mild and utterly beautiful Rheinland. When I went back to the desert, I was in the fourth grade. I emerged from the air plane and was confronted with 44C temperatures, and dirt and rock. I spent the rest of my childhood in protest: the desert was scorching hot dirt, the Rheinland was where I wanted to be, it was my real home. Oddly enough, it was after moving away from the desert that I started to miss it. I missed the extreme temperatures, and the extreme temperature differences. Most of all, and I’m glad you wrote about it here or else I would think I might be allowing my memories to wax romantic, I miss the stillness of the desert, of which the emptiness is a great contributor.

    I think every desert-dweller must have a name of their own involving some Creator’s dark side for their desert – for example, where I grew up, we often referred to it as the land God forgot. Later, when I would move from the desert South West to the Southern Plains region of the US, a friend of mine who arrived there from the East Coast fell into a massive depression (he referred to it as a bleakness to match his environment), and told me one day that where we lived was “where people came to die and be forgotten.”

    Regarding anger, I like to think that anger is a choice. Sometimes it is a necessary choice. Repressed anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die – a phrase I once heard somewhere, that I fully agree with – so I guess the trick is in learning to work with our anger, to know how to put it to use in ways that don’t destroy us. To work with it, we must first accept that we have it, and that this is okay. We aren’t machines, we needn’t act like them or demand that others do the same.

    If it means anything, I understand the pull you describe this desert having had on you – I’ve been pulled that way, myself, by a few places in this world – but all the same, I’m glad you returned from it.

  21. I had a feeling that you must have gone somewhere, dear Julie, and reading your report about your trip I understand that it had not only be to somewhere, but to Namibia, which gave you the feeling of not wanting ever to go anywhere else! This was a very specialy trip and I am glad for you and thank you also for having let me participate.:) By the way, I much appreciate your sentence: “You cannot evovle without anger”. Have a good day.

  22. Excellent post… I love the photographs as much as your words over here…
    Very compelling and well penned.
    This paragraph truly resonated with me, dear Julie. “This is what I feel now: a beautiful emptiness. In certain places that I have visited in the past, I have felt grateful euphoria. The it’s-okay-if-I-die-now feeling. But there was still the aching desire to see more of this glorious planet. This time is different. I don’t ever want to go anywhere else. Ever again”… Sigh! … 😀
    Thanks so much for sharing! . Love and best wishes. Aquileana 🙂

  23. These are some stunning photographs – a place that is almost as eerie as it is beautiful. Must have felt so good to be able to take it in. Your words also complements the photos, a place to sort through it all and a thought that hit me with its honesty: “Anger motivates. Without it, we cannot evolve.” Anger can provide inspiration…and then the most important thing, action.

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