The Shakespeare Diaries

Done. That’s all he wrote, so that’s all I wrote. One thousand three hundred days ago I set out to read each of the 38 plays Shakespeare wrote. I have had a crush on him since I can remember and very simply felt that I could not call myself a true fan unless I’d read them all.  The decision to blog about each one just provided extra incentive lest I languish in lazy procrastination. I had read or seen about a dozen of them prior to this project, but that’s less than a third of the oeuvre.

I have enjoyed every word. Some more than others, admittedly. The writing was a chore and a challenge but made me achieve my objective of delving ever further into, and increasing my appreciation of, his work.

Those who are either genuinely interested, or simply humoring the crazy lady, ask, “Which is your favorite?” This is patently impossible to answer. Like our children, we may love different attributes in them, but we love them all unconditionally and eternally. In general, I prefer the tragedies to the histories and romances and the latter to the comedies, but any given play on any given day can prove the exception to that loose rule.

Some of the tragedies are just so-so, and a few of the comedies are genius. And I hold Henry V and Richard III in very high esteem.  There’s just no way to pick a favorite.

I made a point of seeing as many productions as possible because the plays naturally take on a different personality in each production. Luckily, some renowned and respected actors came to try their hand at the Bard’s works during my project, and that enriched it beyond compare. The top five:

  1. Mark Rylance as Olivia in Twelfth Night
  2. Alan Cummings as everyone in Macbeth
  3. Derek Jacobi as Lear in King Lear
  4. Mark Rylance as Richard in Richard III
  5. Kenneth Branagh as Macbeth in Macbeth

I fear I disappoint when I cannot summarize plots and spout lines at will, but alas, it’s been nearly three years. My brain is older. I read the plays; I didn’t memorize them. And alas again, they are not all particularly memorable (that feels slightly like heresy as I write it).

Those same genuinely interested or polite people ask, “What’s next? His sonnets?” Definitely no. I’m allergic to poetry. Maybe I’ll dig into James Joyce’s Ulysses chapter by chapter. If I throw in Finnegan’s Wake, that will take me through and long past retirement age. In the immediate future I will turn my attention back to the dreaded task of revising a memoir about three months on a German container ship in 1979. I was never very good at checking my work.

I feel satiated with Shakespeare, but sad. I love him because his words make me laugh and cry. Sometimes in the same line. I love him because his “words, words, words” (Hamlet) are seared in our collective psyche such that they have elucidated it and become an inextricable part of its fabric. I love him because the wisdom and insights in his plays are universal and timeless.

So I close the copy of The Riverside Shakespeare that I bought at Middlebury College for $22.50. It is now full of margin notes from both my classes there and this project. I know I can visit him any time, but I will miss seeing him every day. Parting is, indeed, sweet sorrow.

For more about the project, visit the author’s blog at

Photo courtesy of the author


Smile Docs

Cherry red. Periwinkle blue. Badass, knee-high, lace-up black patent. I have three pair of Doc Martens, and I love them all. Despite having recently downsized, given away many of my things, and my new strict anything-new-in-something-old-out rule, I’d buy more if the right pair came along.

Not because, despite their classic clunky appearance, they are like walking on English cirrus clouds.

Not because their solid British construction portends that they will outlive me and my progeny’s progeny.

Not because I am a single, 57-year old suburban empty nester having a midlife crisis and trying to look like a London East End teen.

I would buy more because they invariably make me, and everyone else, smile.

The cherry reds accompanied me to a dharma talk at the Do Ngak Kunphen Ling Tibetan Buddhist Center for Universal Peace in Ridgefield. Of course shoes come off before entering the sanctuary, but after the teaching, I sat on the simple bench in the entryway to lace them back up.

“I like your boots,” said the monk on my right, his feet still bare. His Tibetan accent threw me for a moment, but I followed his gaze down. His own rich burgundy robe grazes the floor and my boots.

“Thank you so much. They make me smile.”

“Ah,” he sighed deeply, nodded, and smiled broadly himself. I felt a bit more peaceful.

The periwinkles carried me to the beach on a particularly sparkly winter day. Snow formed a white lattice on the frozen beige sand. I hugged the shore as I walked since the tide was out. The boots steadied me in the mushier surf-soaked sand. Three large, happy black labs paused momentarily in their pursuit of a tennis ball to say hello. They greeted me with wet slobber, and wagged their tails enthusiastically to show me how pleased they were with themselves, with me, with life in general.

“Hi, boy! How are you!” my voice rose an octave to doggie range.

“I hope they’re not bothering you.” A decidedly non-canine voice. Their human joined us. “Nice boots.”

“Thanks so much. They make me smile.” I paused for a moment. “The boots do, too.” He waved as he trotted off to follow the dogs, who decided to chase seagulls. I felt a bit more playful.

The badass black patent pair is harder to get on, and there are fewer opportunities to wear them, but they are no less comfortable or entertaining.

They come out for special occasions. I was delighted to have been invited to a private viewing of paintings at The Frick Collection in New York, including Fabritius’s Goldfinch and Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring. An upper crust crowd filled the rooms. Their outfits cost more than I spend on clothes in a year.

“Great boots.” An older, conservative-looking suit said with perfect elocution.

“Thank you so much,” I said in genuine surprise. “They make me smile.”

“I see.” He bowed imperceptibly as he wandered off. I felt a bit more confident.

Unlike many, I welcome the autumn, and even the winter. The cold affords me the best opportunity to wear them, so the colder the better. They seem to have some magical powers. They make me smile. And, it seems, they have that effect on others, too.


We sit, eyes downcast, as if we’ve done something wrong. Like bad puppies that have chewed on one of each pair of shoes, awaiting a stern word and a soft paddle on the rump with a rolled up newspaper. But we’re not bad, we just have boobs. And, oh, those boobs – garner-ers of so much societal attention, which come in so many sizes, shapes, and colors. They unify us now, as together we anticipate having them handled, mashed and squished. And not for fun. No, today we will volunteer to be tortured. Today we will allow technicians to flatten them, ostensibly to save them.

We look like ourselves in the crowded outside waiting room. Our hair, our clothes, our idiosyncrasies make us unique out here. Once we’re ushered into the inner sanctum, though, we are only so many body parts to be scanned. Stripped bare from the waist up and clad in cornflower blue demi-gowns that tie loosely in the front for easy access to the appendages in question. Why, I wonder, are the “shmates” not in the ubiquitous breast-cancer-busting pink? We do decidedly not want to be blue, especially not here. We sit silently, as if in a house of worship; as if we are all praying for good results, scanning doctor office copies of Better Homes & Gardens in which we have no interest. We are just passing the time until it’s our turn.

The center tries to assuage our anticipatory tension. It’s so spa-like, you’d think we were awaiting full body massages. The wall fountains gurgle gently, and generic lavender and blue Monet wannabes cling to the walls like we cling to hope. Soft rock means to soothe us, but as Boy George asks, “Do you really want to hurt me?” I think, how ironic for a bunch of women about to have their boobs pancaked in a mechanical vice grip.

Back here, without underwire, we are all loose and floppy. Or our breasts are, anyway. The “girls,” at least my girls, are happy to be free. I wish I could always parade them around with such wanton abandon. We all hug our blue cover-ups, and what they’re covering up, tightly to our chests as if not quite trustful of the flimsy ties, and as if we could protect ourselves from what the scans might reveal.

The controversy and conflict surrounding this issue – the mammogram, early detection, false positives, lumpectomy, mastectomy, BRAC gene testing, prophylactic mastectomy, reconstruction, chemo, and radiation – are a highly charged conundrum. How is it that an ailment so studied and publicized persists so stubbornly? I know far too many impacted women.   am lost in these thoughts, clutching myself even closer, when I hear: “Ms. Lowman?”

My technician disconcerts me. They are usually as warm and comforting as the waiting room, but she seems fidgety, ill at ease, and well… new. She is trying hard but is tentative, so I feel some odd obligation to comfort her, so I try to be super cooperative and chipper. She asks for my birthdate to confirm that these are, indeed, the right boobs and dons breast-cancer pink gloves (“There’s the pink,” I think). I further fluster her by asking if they’re latex, to which I am allergic. She doesn’t know, but I decide the threat of hives is a small price to pay for the potential of early cancer detection. She instructs me to face the plate protruding from the large T-Rex of a machine.

“Drop the right shoulder of your gown.” No one has said anything like that to me since, well, my last mammogram.

Now even more tentative for fear of killing me with latex, she gently pushes me flush with the machine’s bottom plate so that my ribs feel just short of uncomfortable and manually lifts and tugs at my small right breast so that it lies fully on the plate. She holds it down in place as the top plate descends. At contact I suck a deep breath in, bracing myself, and the plate continues down even though it surely feels to me like I’ve gone beyond pancake to crepe. Crap. And it squeezes some more.

“Don’t breathe.” She says.

“Don’t worry,” I think.

She repeats the fun on the left side and then goes in for side boob. My hand drapes awkwardly over the monster in a mangled yoga pose. I try not to think about the radiation as she runs behind a shield to take the picture and I hold my breath again.

It’s actually over quickly. I can’t have been in the room for more than ten minutes. I pass by the waiting women en route back to the small changing room. I feel a little sorry to be done whilst they still sit. But I sense camaraderie too.  hey’re wistful, hopeful, and jealous that I’m walking out, but they wish me well. We all wish each other well.

We are in this together, whether we have had breast cancer or not. We all know someone who has had to return for another scan; for an ultrasound; for an MRI, a needle biopsy, or for the news of a malignancy. We know women who have had various permutations of their breasts removed or radiated.  As part of a desperate defense or a preemptory offense. We have run for, walked for, biked for, baked for, and knit for women who have endured nausea, exhaustion, and hair loss while hoping the what surely will be looked back at one day as the medieval torture of chemo would find and kill every single rogue cancer cell in their body. And we have buried friends and family – too early, too often – every single one of them, no matter their age. We and our boobs are in this together.

I don’t keep my eyes down as I walk past them. I look each woman in the eye and smile and nod. I wish each of them healthy breasts, and hope it will not be long before the result, “NORMAL” is the new normal.

Ghosts of Halloween Past

I miss Halloween. I miss the parade of characters my children chose to inhabit each year: Buzz and Woody, Batman and Robin, Red and Blue Power Rangers. Nostalgia washes over me when I see their sweet candy supplicant faces in photographs from years when the costumes half made them believe they were whom they were dressed up as. I miss making them wear long underwear beneath their outfits to protect them from the cold, holding their hands to protect them from cars, and shining flashlights to protect them from the dark.

When they were very young, we’d walk right up to the doorsteps with them, providing encouragement and etiquette reminders:

“Go ahead, honey, just ring the doorbell!”

They’d look back at us, half hidden in the shrubbery, askance.

“Go ahead! Say ‘trick or treat,’ take one piece of candy, and then say ‘thank you’.”

Back home, we’d spill the loot out right on the kitchen floor. I made them wash their hands, over their protestations, before they dug in. They would sort the candy and do some trading, and then indulge in a few pieces before I put my foot down and declared, “Bedtime!” They’d reluctantly pile everything back into bright orange, black-handled plastic Jack-o-Lanterns. After I tucked them in, I tucked into the candy, making sure eat only as much as they were unlikely to miss. I favored Mr. Goodbars and peanut M&Ms.

When they got to that awkward age when they were too old for parents to tag along but too young to safely go on their own, we’d station ourselves out of their sight but keep them in ours, more chauffeurs than chaperones.

When finally they roamed the streets with just their friends, the real treat was the independence, not the candy. We’d admonish them on their way out: “No mischief, no drinking, be polite, and watch out for cars.” We could only see their surly eye rolling if their costume didn’t involve a mask. They nodded dismissively as they tried to leave.

“Wait, wait, let me get one more picture!” I’d plead.

“Mom…” but they would oblige, and I and all the other mothers in town would post the photos and share admiration for our adorable offspring, much to their dismay.

The street we lived on never got much foot traffic, and the apartment where I live now gets none. I don’t buy candy because I would be sitting in a sugar-induced stupor with chocolate covering my face by 10 p.m. if I did.

This year Halloween fell on a Monday evening – the night I teach yoga at the CT Challenge Center for Survivorship. I considered dressing up in full costume, but my Elizabethan wench gown just didn’t seem conducive to downward facing dog pose. I settled for head to toe black (I know, pretty unexpected for a yoga teacher) with some “spooky” touches: silver threads woven into my leg warmers, an armful of skeleton bracelets, and a fuchsia and black, silver-accented feather boa. OK, I probably looked more like Liza Minnelli than Halloween Yoga Instructor, but I meant well. I brought in orange crème sandwich cookies and ghost-shaped baked potato crisps and offered them up in a fuchsia plastic Jack-o-Lantern with a handle that pulsated with disco-style lights.

My children would have been horrified. But they were thankfully shielded from the spectacle by many hundreds of miles. I got in the spirit (pun intended) and amused myself and entertained my class with something besides asana.

I miss Halloween – the way it was. But I can create my own, new version of the holiday. So next year, don’t be surprised if I knock on your door in full Elizabethan garb looking for a treat!