I sign all my emails like this:
I didn’t have a lot of friends in high school. I was the weird girl who made creepy drawings and painted all the theater sets. Looking back, I think there were more people who might have been my friends than I realized, but at the time, I felt very alienated at my school. Fortunately, there was fencing.
As of last fall, I have been fencing for half my life– I started when I was fifteen years old. It was an important time for me, I was feeling lost and a little hopeless.
Fencing was transformative. I was around adults that treated me as an equal which is of HUGE importance to a teenager. My senior year, the coach, Paul, gave me a job as an assistant teacher/coach for a home school program. It wasn’t just the extra money (and I can’t remember how much it was, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t much) it was the realization that my contribution was important, that I was actually of value. Of course there was the physical fitness aspect, I can’t claim to have ever been truly svelte, but I was healthy and athletic by the time I left for college, and my doctor told me my lung tests were good enough that he wouldn’t have known I had asthma. I gained a sense of accomplishment, with two or three placements in finals of low level national tournaments, and, the summer before college, my first ever first place finish. Thanks to the generosity and tolerance of my parents, I was able to travel all over the country for tournaments and fencing camps. In fact, that’s how I first got to see Notre Dame’s campus, frigid but beautiful in January of 1998. Fencing was probably what got me into Notre Dame too, or at least it certainly wasn’t my grades, which were decent, but not good enough for ND.
Without a doubt though, the most important thing fencing gave me was friends. My first boyfriend was a fencer, and while the dating part didn’t really work out, he was my best friend for several years. A handful of other teenaged boys in Eugene were friends to hang out with and play video games and learn calculus from. And because Eugene didn’t have many fencers that traveled to national competitions, Portland fencers stepped up as a second family, as de facto teammates, cheering me on, coaching, advising, when I ought to have been all alone.
My first female friends as a teenager were a couple fencers from Portland: Heather and Leah. Both were younger than me, Heather by a year, Leah by two or three, but perhaps because I was a bit immature, they felt like a natural peer group. With Heather and Leah for the first time since elementary school, I would frequently laugh to the point of tears, usually over incredibly stupid things that could never be explained the next day. I felt completely relaxed with them, and never felt that I had to prove anything. I ENJOYED being with them, rather than feeling that I needed to fit some persona.
Which brings me back to my email signature.
I started emailing, on my Dad’s account, when I was a junior in High School. Heather was my first correspondent. She signed her emails like this:
I thought that was pretty cool. I had never seen an emoticon before, and it actually took me a few emails to figure out it was supposed to be a smilie. At first I just thought it was a cool bit of graphic typography. And, in the way of teenagers, I wanted to imitate it.
I came up with: “<<>>”
It was meant as a pure aesthetic statement, and if anyone asked, I figured it looked kind of like an eye. This seemed appropriate to me, since I spent much of my time drawing eyes and some of my finished pieces had eyes as focal points. I had also kind of, but not really at all, been nick named “watcher” by a senior at my high school when I was a freshman, for my tendency to stare them to the point of discomfort if they tried to haze me. So eyes were important to me.
But yeah, mainly I just thought it looked kind of neat, and I wanted to have something cool on the end of my name like Heather did.
I continued to sign my emails that way through college, worrying a bit that it might be unprofessional, but persisting nonetheless. These days, I don’t even think about it, the <<>> is entirely automatic. On the rare occasion that I send an email that seems too serious to include it, my signature feels naked without it, and for the most part I’ve stopped excluding it, even if the email is important and to a stranger.
It has no more meaning now than it did when I was sixteen. No one has ever asked about it. Which is just as well. If they did, I’d have to admit, that I’ve been signing my emails with <<>> for 14 years for no better reason than I think it looks kind of cool.
So long for now,