Mary Beth Writes

5/3/2023

I will bet you real money I am the only person who will compare the 2022 movie "Nope" directed by Jordan Peele with the novel "The Yoga of Max’s Discontent" by Karan Bajaj.

I rewatched Nope earlier this week. (One of you suggested Nope for the letter N.) Then I happened to read Yoga of Max. Both stories are compelling and I will be thinking about them for a long time. Starting right now.

‘Nope’ is a horror movie but, hey, when I watched it a few months ago that never dawned on me. It has plenty of scary moments but it’s never the gratuitous gore I associate (perhaps wrongly) with the horror genre.

The story is this. Adult siblings OJ and Em Haywood are attempting to keep their family’s horse training ranch going after their father’s death. The family has been in the business of training animals for Hollywood productions for generations.

Weird things are happening. They realize a UFO is hiding behind a cloud that’s permanently parked over their ranch – and the UFO eats living creatures. Em says they should film the UFO because if they can get an “Oprah shot” they can sell that video for enough money to sustain the ranch and save their legacy. OJ is distrustful, although it’s OJ who realizes the UFO doesn’t eat creatures who don’t look up.

The UFO is “a spectacle." Those who try to tame or exploit it become victims of it. OJ and Em survive (as well as some other characters) because they respect the power above and around them. OJ has done the long and ordinary work of caring for and training horses. He’s not relying on razzle-dazzle to protect him. He is an anxious loner who pays attention and responds cautiously – but responds.

The story changes when, in a heart pounding scene of large monkeys playing hide and seek in the horse barn, OJ is trying to keep himself safe until at one point he stops and says aloud, “Nope.” There will be more outbursts of “Nope” in the movie. “Nope” is a secularly sacred word of power; the power of realizing one isn’t going to continue being a victim of terrifying craziness. The person who says “Nope” is the person who changes the trajectory of the story.

This movie is about a black family and is directed and acted by black artists and it starts with the first known motion picture clip. In 1884 Eadweard Muybridge filmed “Horse in Motion” which is a horse galloping with a jockey on its back. That unknown jockey is Black. (You can look at that clip here.)

When spectacle and fame shape the stories we live our lives by –true stories are lost and we live in a false and dangerous world.

Nope.

“The Yoga of Max’s Discontent” by Karan Bajaj is a novel about a man whose life starts in dangerous urban poverty. He works incredibly hard, gets scholarships to elite schools and to Harvard. He becomes a hedge fund analyst and earns great wealth. The story begins when his mother dies and he acknowledges to himself how empty he feels.

An Indian man selling falafels from a food cart awakens in Max his yearning to discover what underlies suffering and life. He goes to India and lives first in an ashram and later he meditates in a cave in the Himalayas.

That’s it. That’s the novel.

The author, who lives in NYC with his wife and kids, was born and raised in India. He first carved out a successful and impressive career in technology; he still runs tech endeavors. Earlier in his life he lived in an ashram, learned Hatha Yoga, meditated in the Himalayas. His novels grow out of his experiences in the world.

This novel is not about an overachieving superhero. It’s the path of an intelligent person weary of striving towards goals he doesn’t care about. He’s witnessed suffering, especially growing up in deep poverty; and knowing what he knows tears his heart. He takes his flawed self to a place where he hopes to find teachers who are asking better questions and then answering them with their lives, not just words.

I now know a great deal more about the practice of yoga and why people pursue it and the goals it aims towards.

More importantly, the story moved me. Aren’t all of us exhausted by the loss and suffering we witness every day in the news feed and among our family and friends? How do we seriously seek honest spirituality and steadfast kindness?

..

You don’t have to watch this movie or read this book. Some of you will want to, others won’t. Inviting you to love tales I love is not my point and isn’t why I’m spending my time trying to write this.

It’s the questions that are raised that are important.

How do we find a true narrative when Hollywood and The American Myth and How to be a Modern Woman and How to be a Real Guy and How to Age Gracefully give us such appealing lies? When I’m tired I want stories where attractive people find each other and solve problems and have a great time bringing serenity, joy, peace, and joy. Yeah, right. Is this how it works?

Nope.

What’s true is the lies. We live under a parked cloud that obfuscates unknown-to-us forces that want to eat us alive.

Pay attention to the individuals we think are “cool”. Pay attention to whom we judge and how we do it. Pay attention to the hours we give to endeavors we don’t actually care very much about.

How do we go forward with our lives when there is so much loss and suffering? How on earth do we watch women and children edging into famine brought about in great part by our climate affecting actions? I started tutoring in my neighborhood school six years ago and on my very first day there a little girl could not answer the easy questions on the worksheet in front of her. As I tried to help she said she was going to kill herself. When I told the teacher she said yes, she had two students that year who would say that. The part time school counselor had met with them but the parents never showed up and so teachers mostly watched them. The child later moved away. That’s how it resolved.

How do we take this in? I’m here for people who ask hard questions we can’t easily answer.

In the meantime, take care of the horses of our everyday obligations, because at some point, we will need them. Exercise thoughtfully. (Yoga begins as exercise). Respond to the actual moments we are in.

Say Nope when Nope is the thing that needs to be said.

 

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*NOPE* was the best four letter word that I've ever learned, but it took being in my twenties to be able to let it flow from my lips.. Pryor to that I was a *YES* man, afraid that if I said Nope I wouldn't or couldn't be loved or accepted by the people around me.. Because of my upbringing I basically lived in the shadows of the others around me, going around with a giant hole that needed to be filled.. I wanted something I felt I could only get by be compliant.. I felt that in order to get love from my own mother I had to give or do the things she'd ask for.. All my efforts went unappreciated.. I learned that by saying *NOPE* I could slowly give myself confidence and learn to love myself.. *Nope* I can't think of a better life lesson than that..
Mary Beth's picture

Wow, that's really strong. And really true for whole bunches of us, in different ways.

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