Is abandon most fully itself in the verb form, signifying the act of abandoning something to which we’ve previously been attached, like relinquishing a responsibility, deserting a sinking ship, or ceasing to support a cause or a plan of action? Or, is abandon best thought of as the noun, the state of expectant weightlessness and freedom with which we throw ourselves into some new endeavor, feeling joyous, hopeful, and uninhibited?
I keep thinking about a strategy I came across somewhere many years ago while steeling myself to take the daunting GRE Subject Test in English, an application requirement for the PhD programs I was then considering (one of which would lead me to UNLV’s English department, the Black Mountain Institute, and eventually to working on Witness). For months I took sample tests and read exam prep books, one of which offered a really good way of approaching the slightly math-like story problems on the analogy part of the test: Word A is to Word B as Word C is to Word [please select from four complicated vocabulary words you’ve probably never heard before and whose meanings are unclear]. What to do, when you have no idea what some (or even all) of the four possible answers mean? The suggestion was to weigh up Word B, the word whose relation to another word you’re trying to match, and then, even if you have no idea what the four possible answers mean, to sit with each for a moment, asking, is this a happy word, or is this a sad word? That way, you can at least rule out any that aren’t in the same register as whatever you’re trying to match. And though it may sound too simple, it’s a brilliant strategy, because it’s true, most words do indeed carry a positive or a negative charge, one that presents itself to you automatically, on a gut level, regardless of the dictionary meaning.
Most of the time, there’s a general consensus on the happy/sad resonance of a given word, but, strange as it sounds, the whole time we’ve had this theme under consideration, I’ve had to work to keep it’s less positive guise in mind, because something about the word, for me, is more full than empty, more up than down, more noun than verb. In short, the upbeat meaning of the word is always what strikes me first, making our theme, Abandon, much more happy than sad. Which is the spirit in which I step away from Witness, after ten years, first as fiction editor and then as editor. In this role I followed Amber Withycombe, who brought Witness to UNLV and reinvented it with her expertise as an editor, writer, and artist, and who took over from Peter Stine, whose creation and labor of love Witness was originally. It’s been an honor to do this work, and to work closely with the PhD fellows, genre editors, and managing editors. I know Witness will be in good hands, and I’m looking forward to seeing all the new and positive ways in which it, along with Interim and The Believer, will continue to grow and thrive as part of BMI’s new literary publishing endeavors.