Get to know ... Diane Lowman, first-time author, Shakespeare enthusiast
WESTPORT — In the spring of 1979, Diane Lowman got a call from her father that set her on the most momentous adventure of her life, and the focus of her new memoir.
“It was probably a good thing that we didn’t know what I was getting into, because I think, had I known, I wouldn’t have gone, and that would have been a real tragedy for me not to have had the experience,” said Lowman, 59.
The experience — a 10-week working trip aboard a German container ship — came about because Lowman’s neighbor in Westfield, N.J., worked as a shipping agent for the container, and suggested to Lowman’s father that Diane work aboard the ship. Eager to avoid another summer employed by Roy Rogers Restaurant, Lowman, then a sophomore at Middlebury College, agreed to the trip.
Boarding the ship, however, Lowman had a rude awakening when she met the 32 German sailors and one other female also employed on the container, most of whom viewed Lowman as an entitled American and expressed strong anti-American sentiment.
Even worse, the sailors begrudged Lowman because they believed the captain only let her on board to accommodate Lowman’s neighbor and gave her easier tasks to do.
“I spent inordinate amounts of time mending linens, tablecloths, and the crew’s coveralls. I just sat in a room sewing for hours on end, my fingers bleeding,” Lowman said. Although she had to wake up at 5 a.m. to clean the boat’s bridge, Lowman would finish work at noon, after which she mainly spent downtime in her cabin.
“Probably the biggest thing it taught me was how to be alone, because I was very alone, and very lonely,” Lowman said.
Throughout the course of the trip, the ship traveled from New York through the Panama Canal to Australia and New Zealand. During the 17-day stretch from the Panama Canal to Sydney, Australia — the longest period the boat went without hitting land — Lowman said she saw nothing but ocean, a memory which inspired her new book’s title: “Nothing But Blue.” Published by the hybrid self-publishing and traditional publishing company SparkPress, “Nothing But Blue” came out this November.
“I definitely think it made me more confident and independent because there were difficult situations either on board of around the cities that I had no choice but to deal with,” Lowman said. “I had to learn how to manage the fine line between defending yourself and not acquiescing or accepting it, but doing it in a way that wasn’t going to have people resent me more.”
Although not included in her book, the adventures in Lowman’s life didn’t end in the summer of 1979.
After college, Lowman worked for the insurance company MetLife before moving to Los Angeles, where she earned an MBA from Pepperdine University and continued work in the insurance sector. With a husband and son in tow, Lowman moved back east a decade later.
Later, with two sons, Lowman quit the insurance business and her family moved to Westport. While a stay-at-home mom, Lowman worked hard to still fulfill her own interests and needs. She got a black belt in taekwondo, earned an online degree in holistic nutrition, and completed reiki and yoga teacher training certification programs.
Following her divorce and kids’ launch into adult life, Lowman looked for her next pursuit. She decided to return to her love of Shakespeare and read all of his plays, which she blogged about on her website, “The Shakespeare Diaries.”
In a lull after finishing the “Diaries,” Lowman heard from a friend about a master’s program in Shakespeare studies in England.
“I looked into it and I just kept thinking this is ridiculous, this is silly, this will never happen,” Lowman said. Nonetheless, Lowman applied and was accepted to the Shakespeare Institute, part of the University of Birmingham and set in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace.
In the fall of 2017, Lowman embarked on her journey and returned this October.
“I was in nirvana in that I was bathing in Shakespeare 24/7. It literally couldn’t have been better, but I felt very intimidated by the schoolwork,” Lowman said, noting the program was the hardest thing she’s ever done, but that even on her most miserable day she was happy.
“I think in the English language there’s no one — and I know I’m prejudiced — who’s written so much, so beautifully, about so much. There are universal and eternal themes in Shakespeare — love and jealousy and parenting and war and greed and power. He hits everything,” Lowman said.
Back home in Westport, Lowman said she hopes to use Shakespeare to affect people, whether that be in teaching rudimentary Shakespeare to kids at the Westport Library or writing about her time in England to inspire others to pursue their own interests at any age.
“That word ‘passion’ that gets bandied about all the time, I think it’s never too late for that,” Lowman said.
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