It sounded like an impossible task: replace my usual “Thanks so much!”, “What a great question!”, and “Have a wonderful weekend!” with punctuation of a less cheery variety. Less sunshine-y and smiling and, “Hey, yes, I am so happy to be doing this job and helping you out—no matter how much you verbally abuse me or how cold you can be or how few exclamation points you use in your emails to me, I am going to stay positive!” Less of that.
I’ve always been an over-exclaimer in writing. In ninth grade, the student teacher in my English class marked my essay down to an A- for “over-exaggerated emotion.” When I stopped by to ask about it, he said it felt like I was yelling at him through the page. It would only take a few years before my attitude towards that conversation turned from low-level shame to “Damn right, I was yelling at you.” Thus began my feminist awakening, but that’s a story for another day.
After a forced hiatus from my favorite punctuation, I embraced it in full post-college. I used it as a sign of my positive attitude, cheerful personality, and willingness to work. It softens the blow of No, Sorry. It amps-up excitement for paperwork. Most of all, perhaps, it lets coworkers, clients, and management know that I am A Very Nice Girl who is Excited About My Job. Many times, this is a lie. In personal emails, such as those to my mother who lives states away, the exclamation point has always been code for, I’m Doing Great, and I Swear I Am Not Seasonally Depressed, Even a Little Bit!
But sometimes I am seasonally depressed, a little bit, and one day this winter, I got tired of using the smiley-emoji-without-a-face. The signifier of my pleasantness. So I stopped, abruptly. I began ending all of my emails with “Thank you.” I embraced “I would be happy to take care of that for you, Janice.” And “I hope you’re staying warm in this cold weather.” I hugged the comma close to me. I embraced the period, ellipses, and dash. I frowned at my computer screen and punched the keys and avoided my favorite one.
After a few weeks of this, I expected coworkers and bosses to stop by my desk with concern, chilled to the bone by my new online demeanor. I expected curt replies, or overly-flowery ones filled with emojis and the exclamation points I had banned from my own emails. I anticipated confusion over my feelings, intentions, and even my Self—what kind of person doesn’t use keyboard gestures to assure others of her sweetness and likeability?
As it turns out, the response from others was…minimal. One intern asked if I was feeling tired, but that was probably because I was feeling tired. It did cause me to look up and notice all those around me who weren’t using exclamation points in the same madcap way I did (kinda like when you buy a new car and suddenly it feels like EVERYONE has a Mazda3…) and I started to realize that my colleagues’ and friends’ lack of perky punctuation didn’t cause me to judge their character, personality, or career drive.
In fact, selective use of my favorite punctuation led me to feel like the writer was cool, calm, and collected. Confident, even. She wasn’t leaning on the “expoint” as a crutch, didn’t have that fake smile on her face even when delivering hard news, agreeing to a boring project, or accepting difficult criticism. Her emails didn’t need to announce her innermost emotions a la “I promise I’m happy, and by the way, I’ll be using the black & white printer for the next thirty minutes! Thanks for your patience!!” She let her sentences end with an ending, not a cheesy grin. And I was still annoyed at her use of the printer anyway.
From now on, I’m going to try to keep up the period use and downplay the jazzy sentence-enders. I’m going to let my words speak for themselves for awhile. The reader will figure out what I mean. And if I’m not smiling while I send the email, well, maybe it’s okay. Sometimes a lack of enthusiasm is emotionally honest. Sometimes, instead of Cheery Superwoman, I just feel neutral, and that’s okay for my reader—and myself—to acknowledge. :|
Kaitlyn Duling is an author and poet who is passionate about supporting and uplifting other women. Her work can be found at www.kaitlynduling.com.