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.