“Author Spotlight: An Interview with Diane Meyer Lowman, the Writer of The Undiscovered Country: Seeing Myself Through Shakespeare’s Eyes”

Diane is an award-winning essayist, memoirist, and poet. She served as Westport, CT’s inaugural Poet Laureate from 2019 to 2022. Her essays have appeared in numerous publications, including O, The Oprah Magazine; Brain, Child; and Brevity Blog. She also writes a regular column titled ‘Everything’s an Essay.’ Her first memoir, ‘Nothing But Blue,’ was published in 2018, and her latest work, ‘The Undiscovered Country: Seeing Myself Through Shakespeare’s Eyes,’ is available on Amazon. For more information, visit her website: https://www.dianemeyerlowman.com/

"Author Spotlight: An Interview with Diane Meyer Lowman, the Writer of The Undiscovered Country: Seeing Myself Through Shakespeare’s Eyes"

1. If you had to describe your writing style or philosophy in a few words, what would they be?

Joan Didion said she wrote to know what she was thinking. I suppose it’s the same for me. I write creative nonfiction and haiku, and they are both a way to watch, digest, and express my thoughts and feelings.

2. Congratulations on being the inaugural Poet Laureate of Westport, CT from 2019-2022. Can you share your experience in this role and how it influenced your writing?

Thank you! When the town announced that they’d created the post I hadn’t even thought about applying. My former husband urged me to! I consider myself primarily an essayist and memoirist, but I had been writing a haiku daily – and posting them with a photograph I’d taken. And I studied Shakespeare’s sonnets along with other poetry.   The experience was a deeply satisfying honor. I hoped to make poetry less scary and more accessible. I tried to “cover the town” in poetry as much as possible, with everything from haiku lawn signs to poems composed for specific town events. Covid usurped much of my tenure, so I also strove to share as much poetry as possible in alternate, virtual ways.

I focused exclusively on poetry at that time, and it provided a good break from prose. When my tenure ended I came back to creative nonfiction with a clean slate and renewed enthusiasm, and completed this memoir. Although I still post a haiku each day.

3. You have diverse roles as an author, teacher, and Reiki master. How do these different aspects of your life intersect, and do you find any common threads that tie them together?

They all involve connecting with each other. Understanding that we share universal experiences can be quite reassuring and healing. For example, I teach Shakespeare in a third grade class each month. These kids might not otherwise be exposed to The Bard so early, and although he wrote over 400 years ago, there are messages and moments that they relate to completely. For example, we may talk about how violence is not necessarily a good solution to conflict, or how differences might be embraced rather than ridiculed. In my classes at the senior center the writers open up about life experiences that provide catharsis and empathy. I always get more than I give!

4. As a nutritional consultant, do you find any parallels between nourishing the body through food and nourishing the soul through storytelling? How do these aspects of your life complement each other?

What a great question, and absolutely yes! My studies taught me that we can prevent so many ailments through lifestyle choices that are fully in our control – what we ingest, and what we do.  And what we consume means not only solid food, but food for thought, too. For example, I watch virtually no news. I find that I feel better and less stressed when I don’t let that negativity in. But I devour literature, and in doing so my mind expands, my thoughts get stimulated, and I feel that connection I spoke of to others. When we share our stories we foster understanding and compassion.

5. “The Undiscovered Country” is a memoir about your transformative journey of self-discovery through studying Shakespeare. Can you tell us what initially inspired you to pursue this unique adventure at the age of 57?

I had reached a crossroads: both of my parents had died (my mother most recently), my marriage had dissolved, and my children grown. I live in a suburban commuter town that is very family-focused, so I felt a bit untethered. I needed something new – some intellectual stimulation. I’d always loved Shakespeare, and so when I learned of the graduate programs in England, a light bulb went off! It may have seemed like a crazy idea to sell my home, car, and most of my possessions and study abroad for a year, but to me it was the perfect solution for my ennui and culmination of my crush on Will!

6. Your book appears to be about more than just Shakespeare; it’s also about discovering yourself. Can you share a pivotal moment during your time in Stratford Upon Avon when you felt that your journey was deeply intertwined with Shakespeare’s work?

Indeed, the trip and the book started out to be about Shakespeare, but the fact is I learned as much about myself as I did about him. The most pivotal moments for me occurred when my professors – the cream of the crop of Shakespeare scholarship – validated my input. They were so humble and accepting, and taught me that my thoughts had as much weight as anyone’s. That was so uplifting and helped eliminate the doubt that always haunted me: that I somehow hadn’t earned the right to be there or opine. The positive impact went a long way to assuage my imposter syndrome not only around Shakespeare but much more broadly.

7. Your writing is often honest, warm, and witty. How do you strike a balance between sharing personal experiences and maintaining a sense of humor in your memoir?

Thank you so much! I cannot say that it is intentional, but I do know that we can find humor in even the most dire situations. We see that repeatedly in Shakespeare: even the most dire tragedies have moments of comic relief. So perhaps Shakespeare taught me that, too? Laughter is cathartic and therapeutic – and helps us to take ourselves less seriously.

8. In the book, you mention selling your belongings and enrolling in the M.A. program at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford Upon Avon. Could you share some of the challenges you faced during this process and how you overcame them?

It felt quite traumatic because I’d lived in town for twenty years and raised my boys in that house. But at the same time purging and letting go felt quite liberating and cathartic. While it was hard to let some things go, I never missed any of the stuff. Change is difficult, but change is good.

The hardest thing was leaving my network – my community – behind. I felt guilty about “abandoning” my boys even though they were both adults. I was worried about how I’d do in a foreign country on my own. But as I settled in and began my studies, not only had none of the horrible things I’d feared happened, but it turned out to be a dream year. I realized that in going into new situations we often imagine the worst case scenario instead of the best. I guess that is self defense or self preservation, but it would so behoove us to imagine the best case scenarios as well.

9. Shakespeare’s language has evolved over time, and some of his words and phrases have changed in meaning. Can you share an example of a word or phrase from his works that had a different meaning in his time compared to today?

So true! I think of the line from Romeo and Juliet when Juliet asks him: “Wherefore are thou Romeo?” (II.ii.23) Many readers think she is asking where he is, but really she is asking why he has to be named thus – a Montague, and as such an enemy of her own family, the Capulets.

10. Shakespeare’s plays often feature complex characters with hidden motivations. Can you discuss a character from his works whose motivations or psychology particularly fascinate you, and what insights can readers gain from studying that character?

Again, so true! And so hard to pick just one as there are so many, but Iago from Othello confounds so many of us. He seems to embody evil. I think we search for an explanation for his maliciousness (like we get, for example, in Richard III) because we could better accept it if we could understand it. But even though we know he felt jilted by and perhaps jealous of Othello, that still doesn’t provide a fully satisfying explanation for why he does what he does. And of course at the end of the play he literally remains silent, refusing to share his motivation.

11. Do you have other writers in the family and friends?

My paternal grandfather, a Greek immigrant who attended school only until the age of eight, was a prolific reader and writer. I have a volume of the poetry he wrote; he fancied himself a Lord Byron of the Bronx by way of Greece. My  oldest son, Dustin, is also a gifted writer of songs, poetry, and prose. He edited this memoir!

12. You’ve written more than 2,500 haikus. What draws you to this specific form of poetry, and do you have any favorites among the haikus you’ve written?

I dabbled in the genre when I worked on a German container ship for the summer at age 19 (the subject of my first memoir, “Nothing But Blue”), but didn’t return to it until my oldest son began to study and write poetry. When I shared it with him, he told me it wasn’t very good and perhaps I should stick to shorter poems. He gave me a great gift because I began writing haiku then. It is an ancient, originally Japanese form that consists of three lines of 17 syllables (5,7,5). It is deceptively easy to write a haiku, and extremely difficult to write a good one! It is the ultimate distillation and condensation of the impression of a moment, like a snapshot. We hope to load those 17 syllables with relatable meaning.  I tend not to like that many of them (!), but a few of my  favorites are:

I polished my nails/And put lip gloss on and waited/With my cabernet

We’re on a roll now/No idea what day it is/But I have TP

Paper cut out trees/Set their striking silhouettes/Against the dusk sky

13. In your column “Everything’s an Essay,” you explore a wide range of topics. How do you choose the subjects for your essays, and what do you find most rewarding about this writing format?

I never choose the subjects; they choose me! The title of the column says it all: everything is something to write about: the meaning in the quotidien. Something makes an impression on me – haunts me – or amuses me – and then I feel compelled to explore those feelings in an essay. Whether it’s a cardinal couple on my deck or concerns about aging, the process of crafting the piece helps me to observe, digest, and express my feelings.

14. Can you share any insights or advice for aspiring writers, particularly those interested in writing essays, memoirs, or poetry?

As Nike says, “just do it!” Read a lot, and write every day, even if you just write “write, write, write.” Getting into a habit helps. And knowing that it doesn’t have to be “good,” or “momentous.” Just write and develop your own style. We often mimic our favorite writers, which is a great place to start, but eventually our unique voices will emerge.

Discover the depths of self-reflection in “The Undiscovered Country: Seeing Myself Through Shakespeare’s Eyes” by Diane Meyer Lowman. Join her on an extraordinary journey of self-discovery as she immerses herself in the world of Shakespeare. Get your copy on Amazon today and explore this captivating voyage of personal and literary exploration.

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