Three years ago, when we launched the experiment known as the F&M Alumni Arts Review, we could see as far as Volumes One and Two. The successes of those volumes—Turning Points and Doorway—created enthusiasm for a third, and last spring, over dinner at Gibraltars, a lovely restaurant close to the F&M campus, members of the Editorial Board met to talk about the theme for the next issue.
The dinner was also, in part, a gesture of gratitude for the hard work invested in Volume Two, and one of congratulation—some of our student interns, graduating just days later, knew they’d soon be alums themselves. But choosing our next theme was the focus of the evening, and I’d asked those who could join us to each bring three words, on three slips of paper. As we ate our elegant dinner, we passed a small basket around the table, drawing from it slip after slip, word after word. We spoke to what each one evoked, the metaphors it could be seen to encompass, how effective it might be to inspire F&M’s alums to write a poem or a story, submit a photograph, launch an essay, start a painting.
There were some beautiful words in that little basket! (I won’t give them away—we might decide to use them another year.) We didn’t make a decision that night, but as time went by, one in particular kept coming back to me again and again:
Shift: To move or cause to move from one place to another, especially over a small distance. Small, perhaps! But we all know how massive those moves can be. The tiniest shift in attitude, in judgment, in consciousness—in action—can change an entire life, and often has.
That meaning was one with which I was familiar, as I also knew a definition from my work as a waitress (which for years is how I supported my artistic habits): a group of workers that relieve each other on a regular schedule. Those of us who’ve been engaged in any kind of service industry also know it as the working period of such a group: “Oh, Deb! I have an interview tomorrow—could you please please please take my shift?”
The word also refers to a loosely fitting dress or slip that hangs straight from the shoulder. It is in these last three senses, my Oxford tells me, that we get the idea of shift as a form of change, or substitution.
Looking more deeply, I discovered that in addition to having meanings in football (a rearrangement of players just prior to the snap of the ball), automobiles (moving between gears), geology (think fault), and physics: (a change in wavelength), the word has a marvelous slang usage: to make out, as in, “Did you shift him last night?”
Another intriguing meaning lies in the idea of shift as making do, or providing for one’s needs, as in “she was left to shift for herself.” Perhaps this brings us to that slightly ominous word, “shifty.” Less common, and rather inspiring, is the phrase, “make shift,” which is to do what one wants to do in spite of not having ideal conditions.
Which leads us, of course, to the shift key. What ever would we do without it? How would we make our capital letters? (How else make parentheses?) How could the equal sign morph to +? Shift allows us the question mark, makes 2 give us @, and 8 become *. In many ways it’s in the image of that shift key that a massive power of the word resides: with the press of a button, often made quickly—with our pinkie finger, no less—A WHOLE NEW WORLD OPENS !!!
We wear a shift, or we work one. We shift just prior to the snap of the ball. We can express aggravation with the shift of one key and the tap of six others: @#$%^! We make shift, doing what’s needed even when the circumstances are not ideal. We shift to accommodate a way of thinking, to welcome a new friend, to incorporate a different discipline. We shift, and then we shift again.
We hope this word inspires you, alums of F&M, to send us your essays, stories, images, poems. We look forward to seeing and to reading and, inspired by your work, to shifting.
Further inspiration can be found by browsing previous issues. While the Alumni Arts Review is not yet equipped to handle music and film and performance videos, previous volumes are available as online flipbooks that can be easily downloaded to your favorite E-reader. You are also welcome to ask for a hard copy. As long as supplies hold out, we’re happy to mail you one or both volumes.
Submissions for Volume Three: Shift will be accepted between August 1st and Dec 1st, 2013. Our Submission Guidelines will provide the information you’ll need to get started. Answers to other questions may be found at Frequently Asked Questions, or feel free to email me at
We very much look forward to seeing your work!
Editor, F&M Alumni Arts Review