Friday, September 11, 2009

Textual intimacy

As my end-of-summer post suggested, I've been exchanging work in at least a limited way with a surprising number of friends. It's been pleasurable, but a little weird.

No matter how well you think you know a person--you may have gone to their parties or slept on their couch; gotten drunk or gone shopping together; attended their conference panels or read their published work--there's something different about reading their work-in-progress and having them read yours. It's like having sex with a long-time friend: you thought you couldn't know this person any better, and yet suddenly you have an entirely new kind of relationship, one that's only partly contiguous with your old one.

There's stuff, it turns out, that you didn't know about the other person, and you have to relearn how to interact: where the vulnerabilities are, and what you can say and how you can say it. If I tell a colleague that her chapter is great, but needs A, B, C, and D, will she understand that I actually do think it's great. . . or will she hear only the critique?

The process of getting to know our friends more intimately is richly rewarding, but like all processes it involves the passage of time--some of which time is spent feeling awkward or uncertain or unable to judge how things are going. (And patience, especially during periods of uncertainty, has never been Flavia's strong suit.)

I'm not sure whether it's easier or harder when the person one is getting to know textually/intellectually is the person one is dating. In either case, part of what I find discomfiting is having to acknowledge that I don't know this person fully, as he or she does not fully know me. When Cosimo and I started dating, his book was already under contract and he was making his final revisions; mine wasn't (and isn't) as far along, but at more than 200 pages and representing seven or eight years of my life, it's not a project with an easy point of access. Sure, it can be read. But everything bound up in it and everything behind it--the lived experience--isn't as readily assimilated.

Maybe it's just another version of the problem of aging: when you're 30 or 35 or 40, you've done a lot of things and you have a lot of past. It takes more in order to feel known. That doesn't mean it's not worth it, of course--knowing other people may be the only thing that is worth doing--but it takes a lot of talking and it takes a lot of reading and it takes a lot of time.


Sisyphus said...

Wow. This is great, if way more ... fraught sounding than my writing relationships.

(thinking of my friends and the people who I share drafts with --- ok, ugh, that was a mental image I really did not want to have. Sticking with a lack of intimacy over here.) :)

Flavia said...

Just a metaphor, dude. But sorry to squick you out. . .