Oh, What A Wonderful Day
by Liz Pawley (Kirriemuir, Angus, Scotland)
February 8, 2011
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Note: This short story won an Energy Expressions contest among Ananda Yoga teachers. Here’s what inspired the contest: There are many expressions in the English language—and many other languages—that directly reflect realities of the subtle (energy) body, even though the speaker might not know about prana at all. For example, expressions such as “I feel high” and “I’m on top of the world” reflect a state of mind that correlates directly with energy being located the upper portion of the body. Similarly, “I have a gut feeling about this” and “I have butterflies in my stomach” reflect an awareness of what is happening with energy in the midsection of the body. In Part 1 of the contest, we asked teachers to list as many of these expressions as they could think of. The judges then selected the best of those expressions and invited contestants to write a one-page story or essay that incorporated as many of those expressions as possible. Entries were judged both by the number of such expressions used and the overall quality of the story.
The sun peeped through the curtains casting a warm glow across my sleepy face. I woke with a surge of excitement running through me. It was my birthday! I jumped out of bed feeling on top of the world! The sun was shining, after a night of heavy rain, and the birds were singing their little hearts out. Oh, what a wonderful day!
This was also the day of a very important job interview, for which I had been preparing for the last couple of weeks. I felt a slight shiver go down my spine as I realised this was the moment I had been waiting for to make my dream come true.
I set off down the street walking tall, trying to keep my spirits high and not let the butterflies in my stomach take over my whole being. As I walked it began to rain, and I had not thought to bring a coat; the day had seemed so perfect when I first jumped out of bed on cloud nine. As I stepped to cross the road, thinking how bedraggled I would look at the interview, there was a screech of brakes and a car managed to stop within inches of me, the driver’s face red with anger as he shot accusing looks at me. I stood frozen to the spot. I had almost been killed, just because I had allowed my mind to wander to other places, other times, and neglect my body. I was shocked to the core. My birthday bubble was truly burst now! After apologising profusely and grovelling to the irate driver, I walked away feeling week at the knees, the colour drained from my face. I felt myself spiralling downwards into feelings of guilt and shame at being so stupid!
How could the day get any worse? But, no, I must not think like this! Today was an important day for me. I was determined to rise above all these little ups and downs in life. My face lit up when I caught sight of my best friend, Sophie, walking towards me. But almost immediately I could feel it in my bones that something was wrong, seriously wrong. She looked as if she was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders as she bravely tried to speak to me, her words choked with emotion. Her dear mother had had a heart attack the day before while they were out shopping, and now her mother was fighting for her life in intensive care at the hospital. I felt my heart go out to her as she recounted the story, her eyes downcast and tears welling up as her emotions overflowed. It was so sad to see my normally happy, upbeat friend like this. I felt a lump in my throat as I gently explained that I really had to go, as I was in danger of being late for my interview, but I assured her that I would go round and visit later and lend her a shoulder to cry on.
Just then my bus hurtled past, drenching my smart clothes in muddy water from a nearby puddle! My heart sank. A feeling of dread arose in my stomach.
By the time I reached my interview I was already a half hour late. The receptionist was cold and unhelpful, looking down her nose at this dripping wet human specimen. She announced bluntly that I had missed my interview, and really I should make a bit of effort if I was serious about wanting a job. Part of me crumbled inside, and another part felt ready to explode. I had to bite my tongue to stop me shooting my mouth off at the receptionist, as all the frustrations of the day came to a head. Why couldn’t she lighten up? I did my best to bend over backwards trying to persuade her to give me another chance, but all to no avail. As I walked away I felt completely crushed. All my dreams were shattered. I felt hollow, like and empty shell.
I unlocked the door of my home and walked in, numb to the world, eyes vacant. A slight rustle should have alerted me to what was to come next, but my senses had closed down. It took the sudden lights and raucous singing of ‘happy birthday’ and the colourful sight of all my beloved friends and family to jolt me to my senses again. What a heart-warming sight! I felt the colour and life begin to rise again in my body; a weight began to lift gently, even joyfully, from my shoulders; my emotions welled up inside me, free at last to move and transform. I was among those who loved me again! I felt truly at home! The earlier part of the day quietly faded into a distant memory as I was enveloped in love and joy and laughter! What a wonderful day!
Liz’s thoughts on the genesis of her story
This story is completely fiction. However, each emotion and energy movement is familiar to me from past experiences, even if the details of the story differ.
I tried to think of how many different ways my energy could be pulled from centre as events in my life unfold around me, and designed fictitious events to clearly illustrate these feelings and energetic movements. I made it all happen in a day to show how “fickle” emotions can be, or how transient they are, as we can be deeply into one emotion one minute and then, just the next moment with a change of circumstance or attitude, be feeling something completely different. In a way it shows that we don't need to fear emotions or feel bogged down or controlled by any specific emotions, as their very nature is movement and impermanence. I also liked the idea of coming back to some kind of peace and love at the end of the day, reminding us that we have the capacity for love and joy and connection at all times.
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My Wonderful Day
by Steve Hauck
BOTTOM LINE: This is an extremely funny and perceptive play by the acknowledged master of British comedy. A real crowd-pleaser.
After seeing My Wonderful Day, the supremely enjoyable new play by (Sir) Alan Ayckbourn, I found myself thinking about Neil Simon. The two writers have often been compared. Both are immensely popular, successful and prolific. Each is a master craftsman of comedy. And while neither has had a new play on Broadway in many years, both have seen their work on the Great White Way this year. Ayckbourn’s 1976 trilogy The Norman Conquests won the 2009 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play. The recent production of Simon’s 1983 work Brighton Beach Memoirs fared less well, closing after only a week. At the performance I attended of My Wonderful Day, which is part of the “Brits Off Broadway” series at 59E59, the audience response was nothing short of ecstatic. What is Alan Ayckbourn doing right?
Ayckbourn's work has been (like Simon’s) routinely dismissed as being slight, even trivial. Recently, however, critics have begun to view Ayckbourn as an important commentator on the lifestyles of the British suburban middle class, and as an innovator who experiments with theatrical styles. The Norman Conquests won a 1976 Drama Desk Award for “Unique Theatrical Experience,” in recognition of its ingenious structure: the three plays are intricately linked, but can be viewed individually or in any order with complete understanding and satisfaction.
My Wonderful Day (Ayckbourn’s 73rd play) has no such structural complexity. It does, however, add a fresh note to Ayckbourn’s gimlet-eyed take on the British bourgeoisie. In this case, we see the foibles of the adult characters through the eyes of 8-year old Winnie Barnstairs, described as a “silent, watchful child.” She is also perceptive, insightful and disarming. In the hands of 28-year old actress Ayesha Antoine, Winnie is an utterly engaging character and a charmingly effective fulcrum for this sharply perceptive comedy.
Winnie has accompanied her pregnant mother Laverne to her job as housekeeper for a well-to-do couple in North London. When Laverne’s water breaks and she is taken to the hospital, Winnie is left in the care of the curmudgeonly Kevin, his twittering secretary (and lover) Tiffany and his hapless business associate Josh. Throughout the play the audience sees (and hears) only what Winnie sees, including a lot of pathetically childish adult behavior. The “grown-ups” either ignore Winnie altogether or take on a patronizing attitude toward her, unaware that she is recording everything they say and do for a school essay titled “My Wonderful Day.”
Ayckbourn writes great roles for actors, deftly seasoning recognizable characters with just enough comic exaggeration. And since he is also the director of the production, we can credit him with the beautifully realized performances from each and every member of the cast. Antoine is completely believable as an 8-year old, and communicates worlds in a mere stare. Petra Letang is wonderful as the sweetly delusional Laverne. Terrence Booth plays the arrogant Kevin to a tee. Ruth Gibson is absolutely delightful as the earnest airhead Tiffany. Alexandra Mathie makes a strong late appearance as Kevin’s estranged wife Paula, not easy since the character has been maligned throughout the play. Best of all is Paul Kemp as the fatuous Josh. He provides the play’s most touching moment as well as many of its funniest.
The production also benefits from an ingenious set and lighting design, which allows Ayckbourn the director to keep the action humming along with clarity and nuanced efficiency.
Full disclosure: I’m a total Anglophile. I have a special fondness for British dialects and linguistic tics, especially the habit of ending almost every statement with a question: “We practice our French today, don’t we?” “Want to say hello, do you?" “Be like going to the movies, won’t it?”
“Situation comedy” has gotten a deservedly bad rap. Ayckbourn and Simon have both been tarred with that epithet at times. But unlike some TV sitcoms, the comic plays of Alan Ayckbourn are not merely facile laugh fests. True, none of the characters in My Wonderful Day seem to learn anything, much less grow or change. But Ayckbourn has a special gift for making the awful funny without being cruel. And in the beguiling Winnie Barnstairs, he has created a heroine whose clear-eyed view of human absurdity lets us all laugh at ourselves.
(My Wonderful Day runs until Sunday, December 13; Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2 and 8pm, and Sunday at 3pm and 7pm at 59E59 Theaters, 59 E. 59th Street. Tickets are $45 during previews, $60 after opening which is November 18. To purchase tickets call Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or go to www.ticketcentral.com. For more information visit www.59e59.org or www.britsoffbroadway.com.)