Over the past couple of years I've talked to at least a dozen friends about exchanging work. Sometimes this happens over margaritas, as one of us is moaning about a project that seems to be going nowhere and the other replies, "well hey: I'm always happy to read for you." Other times (though likely still over drinks) we've mutually if vaguely declared that we really ought to form a support group to keep ourselves on task and read through each other's stuff from time to time.
And sometimes it's even happened: a couple of friends have stepped in at key moments to read the draft of one or another of my articles, and I've read a draft or two in return. I've also read a series of short introductions for a colleague's critical edition.
But that's been it. I think we're all sincere in our professed desire to help each other out--I know I'd read a draft for any of my friends at any time, and I'm not overly shy about asking for help myself, especially when I'm on a deadline or have gotten really stuck. But I think I've outgrown the scholarly booty call. I'd like a committed, long-term (though not necessarily exclusive!) relationship.
Part of the problem is mutuality. I do have a couple of mentor-type people who have volunteered to look over my manuscript "anytime," but apart from how terrifying those offers are (and although I will pursue them--I may be terrified, but I'm not stupid), those relationships would be unidirectional; I don't have much to offer in return, at least at this stage in my career. And even among friends, it's hard to know whether one is imposing too much, or if the vision of the relationship that one of us has is the same held by the other: would we be in touch weekly? monthly? less frequently? Would one of us need more hand-holding than the other? And what if we just, you know: had different values?
I'm hopeful that a supportive scholarly relationship or two will coalesce in the future, as it's hard for me to imagine being either particularly happy or a particularly good thinker working in isolation. Plenty of solitary workers are--both happy and damn fine scholars--but the older I get the more inefficient it feels to work alone and venture my ideas into public only in conference papers or article submissions.
It's funny: I used to be anxious about letting anyone see anything I was working on before it was polished to a high gloss--even if I knew I'd still be doing tons of revision afterwards, I couldn't bear the idea of showing my imperfect or unfinished thoughts to the world. But somehow, in the past few years, that fear has dissipated. I have a job. I've published articles I'm pleased with. I'm pretty sure my friends will not think I'm an idiot if they encounter a weak argument or an awkward paragraph (or ten).
More importantly, there's a lot of shit I don't know--stuff I haven't read, ways I don't think, ideas I haven't encountered. Given an infinitude of time, might I learn all those things on my own? Maybe. But wouldn't it be more efficient and more pleasurable to learn them from others--and help them learn stuff in return?
So yeah. That's what I'm looking for. You can keep your candlelit dinners and long walks on the beach. I want something intimately. . . textual.