Saturday, March 16, 2013

Always Forever

Every writer has little idiosyncrasies they bring to the writing life or acquire along the journey. For example, I use only Courier New font for my work. I'm not a font snob; I prefer it because I wear trifocals and I can see the punctuation marks without squinting. A few years back I started writing a draft of the last chapter of my novel before I reached the midway point of writing the actual manuscript so I'd have something to work toward, and to get rid of my last-chapter anxieties. That little trick, which I read about online, proved 100% effective for me. And while I can write dressed in pretty much anything (often my pajamas) I can't summon a single word if I'm barefoot.

I write a lot of e-mail; I don't count them but after glancing at my Sent folders I think I average about fifty to a hundred per week. Last night I got an e-mail from a colleague who jokingly signed off with xoxoxo as protest to an anti-signoff article. That was the first time I'd heard of that (and the first time I'd gotten virtual kisses and hugs from a colleague), so I went looking for the piece, found and read it.

My search results also suggested that the poor guy is already at the bottom of a massive pile-up, so I won't add to it by naming him or linking to the article. He's obviously wrestled with the issue, and I don't think he really meant to beat up on anyone but himself. In the process of defending his opinion, however, he casually insulted everyone who writes letters, e-mails or anything else that is traditionally signed off with a Sincerely Yours or Best Wishes or Cheers. Considering how much correspondence we all write, however we write it, that's a lot of people. That's probably billions of people.

I wasn't deeply offended, probably because I've wrestled with the issue myself. I started out like most using Sincerely as we were taught in school to sign off e-mails, and progressed to Best Wishes and then to the abbreviated Best. I still use Best with business correspondence or with people I don't know well because it sounds a bit warmer than Sincerely but not as lofty as Best Wishes. For reader mail I settled on Always, mainly because no one else was using it and it's one of the two ways I sign off when autographing books. With friends I generally use some variation of Hugs. I like Hugs; it's warm and friendly and personal. I mean it, too; I'd give them all real hugs if I could.

There are plenty of sign offs I don't like. I'm not a big fan of the authorial sig block so beloved by the writer organization crowd, the one that lists upcoming releases, award nods and sometimes even bookseller links; personally I find the really long ones a little tiresome. At the same time I know the pressure to promo put on every writer, so I don't take offense (nor do I mean to ridicule anyone who uses them; I just don't care for them) Same thing with Cheers; I was a bartender and while I've tried using it a few times myself that word will always be a toast to me. Makes me occasionally wonder if the other person is inebriated or expects me to be, too.

Despite the inherent awkwardness of the e-mail sign off I don't think it's outdated or that it needs to be eliminated. Removing it from our cyberlives might buy a few more seconds to Tweet something clever or update the Facebook status, but it would erase something far more important: a chance to express some respect or affection. When you end a telephone call, or you go to work, or you send your kids off to school, you wouldn't think of just hanging up or driving off or slamming the door shut. You say take care, have a good day, see you tonight -- or even simply good-bye.

We exchange these words because no matter how much the world progresses or becomes gadgetized, that moment may be the last time we speak to that person, Maybe for today, for the week, for the month, or for the rest of our lives (or theirs.) For these reasons I am so glad the very last e-mail I sent to my friend Monica Jackson signed off with a Hugs, and the last words my father heard from me over the phone, when he was still conscious and could understand me, were I love you, Dad.

I'm already a dinosaur, so I don't think anyone will mind if I continue using my e-mail sign offs. I hope you will, too. Some things should not become antiquated, and like our lives, our chances to say farewell are not infinite.

Always,
Lynn

10 comments:

  1. I didn't know that there was controversy over email sign offs, but I think it is ridiculous. Most of the time, I use "Thanks". For family it is "Love" or "I love you". Sometimes I just use my name, but that is usually only if the email chain has been going for a while. Why would people have a problem with it?

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    1. I'm really not sure, Lissa, but I wonder if it may be related to the fact that people have stopped writing traditional/paper letters and instead communicate largely by e-mail or texting. Electronic correspondence comes with an e-mail addy or whatever the smart phones do (I don't know; I have a dumb phone) that already identifies the sender. Maybe because of that the signoff feels redundant to some.

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  2. I have something in my eye. Hugs.

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  3. Business correspondence for me is "Thanks/Thank you, *insert my name*" because to me, it's an abbreviated version of thanks-for-taking-the-time-to-read-this. For friends I feel really close to, it's hugs, love ya (because I really do love my friends, I have so few that the ones I have are very important to me) soon or any number of affectionate byes. For my girls, it's Later Dudette because it drives them crazy and that's become my mission in life. ;o) But unless I'm in an ongoing email conversation with someone, I always sign off. It's just rude not to. It leaves the correspondence unfinished to me.

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    1. There's another point (thank you, Theo) -- the rudeness factor. It seems to me very abrupt and unmannerly not to sign off on correspondence; maybe that's old-fashioned but I can't just issue a message like an order, I need to add the nod of thanks and respect at the close.

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  4. I usually use a couple of different signoffs for my correspondence. If it's work related, either memo, letter, or e-mail, I always throw in a "sincerely" at the end.

    If it's a personal e-mail, I won't through in a closing signoff. All I'll throw in is my initial, and I wipe out the automatic signature that populates my e-mail. If it's submission correspondence or talking to my publisher, then I'll throw in a proper signoff.

    I think what it boils down to is 1) personal preference and 2) what the situation calls for.

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  5. I think I'd rather have an initial signoff (which I do myself with friends after the first of a same day, back-n-forth exchange) than nothing. I think a business communication of any kind looks unfinished without some sort of sign off, too.

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  6. Fran K5:27 AM

    Maybe I'm old fashioned but I went to secretarial school and spent many many years in offices and I just can't complete a letter, email, note, whatever without some form of salutation. Official emails to utilities or the bank etc always get treated like a letter, so I Dear Sir / Yours faithfully. Work correspondence is always finished with Kind regards or Best regards. Impersonal emails such as between buyer / seller on ebay, I start with Hi there and end with Regards. Correspondence to friends and family is always love & hugs with a couple of kisses to finish off because if I was writing a letter that's what I'd do. As a Brit "cheers" means more than just a toast, it's also another type of salutation. So leaving the coffee shop after enjoying a get together with friends, especially a mixed group, I wave as I leave and "cheers". Or on the street a male-type person will ask a question, like what time is it? and when you've given them the answer they'll say "Cheers mate!" as they walk off. I tend to use this salutation with male friends on email correspondence. But at the end of the day (email) I think its simply a matter of manners and courtesey to finish off with something. See old school!

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    1. I was reading somewhere that very few if any young people have ever once written a real letter, Fran. So the lack of genuine (or old-fashioned, I suppose) correspondence in their experience may make them more inclined to be abrupt, because they've never had to use the formal sign off.

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