Diane Lowman always had a crush on Shakespeare.
For as long as she remembers, the Westporter loved the long-dead English author.
But when her sons Dustin and Devin graduated from Staples High School, Diane — who kept busy in her 20-plus years here by volunteering in school libraries, tutoring and substitute teaching Spanish, and doing nutrition consulting with groups like Homes with Hope and Project Return — found herself with empty-nesting time.
For “brain stimulation,” she read all 38 of her crush’s plays. She blogged about the experience in “The Shakespeare Diaries.”
When that was done, Diane says she had “post-partum depression.”
Then a friend mentioned a cousin was earning a master’s degree in English. A light bulb flashed.
“I’d been out of school hundreds of years. It was crazy,” Diane recalls. “But I applied to the Shakespeare Institute.”
The research group is part of the University of Birmingham (England, not Alabama). Based in Stratford-upon-Avon, it offers a 13-month master’s program in Shakespeare studies.
So a year ago, Diane says, “I ran away from home.”
The experience exceeded even her lofty expectations.
“I pinched myself every day,” she reports. She lived in the beautiful West Midlands, surrounded by farms, sheep and swans. The Cotswolds were close.
It was not Disneyland. It was “Shakespeareland.”
The Institute’s professors were “Shakespeare’s brain trust,” Diane notes. Yet they were exceptionally accessible, caring and helpful.
Her flat was 2 blocks from the Church of the Holy Trinity, where the writer is buried. Diane visited often. “I would just sit and chat with him,” she says.
The Royal Shakespeare Company was half a mile away. She saw every play they produced.
Diane also volunteered at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. She had access to the full archives — including rare, barely seen materials.
She flipped through a 1623 folio of the playwright’s works — the first time they were compiled together. “I actually cried,” she says of that experience.
Now — 13 months later — Diane has her master’s degree in Shakespeare. What does that mean for her life?
“That’s my big quandary: What do I want to do when I grow up?” Diane admits.
She has met with the creative director of Shakespeare on the Sound, and contacted Norwalk Community College about teaching a lifetime learners’ course. She’d also like to do a “Kids’ Introduction to Shakespeare” through the Westport Library.
The renowned author’s works “are really not daunting,” she claims. “I read Shakespeare to both boys starting around 2. They knew ‘Hamlet’ better than ‘Goodnight Moon.'”
As Diane Lowman starts to figure out her next steps, there’s one literary certainty. Her memoir, “Nothing But Blue,” has just been published.
She traveled from New York to Australia and New Zealand and back, through the Panama Canal.
The voyage changed her perspective on the world, and her place in it. She left as a “subservient, malleable girl,” and returned as a confident, independent, resilient young woman.
That long-ago journey was not much different from her recent one.
“I went far from home, on what seemed like a crazy idea,” Diane says of both. “But ultimately my time was so enriching.”
Her time in England was “wonderful.” Her shipboard experience was “scary, lonely and weird.”
Ultimately though, Diane learned and grew from both.
All’s well that ends well.