A Testimonial

My name's Doug. I'm an academic.

I been doin drugs as long as I can remember.

At first it was just readin. You know, books n shit. Magazines, newspapers, comic books, anything I could get my hands on. I remember as a kid sittin on the john readin the backs of Bandaid tins, Kleenex boxes, hand lotion bottles. I was always readin, seems like. Whenever I could, anything I could. I'd read late into the night with a flashlight under my covers; my parents were real worried about me doin drugs in bed n losin sleep. In fact, they were real down on me in general for doin so much drugs. They were all the time sayin "Doug wouldja getcher nose outa that book n join the family!" They hated it. I can see why, I guess. It made me real absent-minded. Like I just didn't care, you know? Like I was in another world, up in the clouds somewhere. So they were always yellin at me about it.

The funny thing was, they were real proud of me for doin so well at school, n that was drugs too, you know? Books n shit. So they were always pushin me to do school drugs, prescription drugs I guess, n at the same time raggin on me for doin home drugs, Batman comics n Tom Swift novels n shit like that. What was the difference? I couldn't tell. I was real into all those drugs, school drugs too. If they didn't want me to do drugs, why'd they push school so hard?

At school, though, it wasn't just readin. It was writin too, n I was pretty good at that, I guess, but it was more than that. It was praise from adults. God did I mainline that shit. I was this skinny uncoordinated little bookworm with hornrim coke-bottle glasses, unpopular, scared of my shadow--boy did it feel good to get high. I'd shoot up with a few right answers n settle back to feel the rush as the praise started hittin home. Then I'd get straight A's on my report card n the other kids'd rag me about that n pick on me n trip me in the halls n I'd feel shitty, so I'd go home n show my parents my report card n they'd give me my fix: "That's wonderful, Doug! Straight A's again! Look, boys"--this to my younger brothers--"Doug got straight A's. Why can't you be more like him? We gave all of you boys the brains to get an A in every class you take!" I'd settle back n feel the rush--ignoring the bumps, you know, the daggers of resentment my brothers were shooting my way. What could I do about any a that? What concern was it a mine?

By the time I graduated from high school, I was a hardcore addict. I never went anywhere without a book, n would do anything for praise from adults. Books defined my life; sometimes I'd be surprised when something'd happen to me that'd happened in a book I'd read. Or maybe I just thought it happened; maybe that was just part of the drug high, maybe I hallucinated it. Every time I started a new book I'd get the rush, this one's gonna be it, this one's gonna change my life, give me that ultimate fulfillment . . . So I'd devour it in a day or two, sometimes in an hour or two, and come off the rush with a rock in my gut, then frantically search my shelves for the next fix, or hustle off to the bookstore or the library. The worst times of my life were when I couldn't find a book to read--or, well, actually, the right book to read. Between books and dissatisfied with all the humdrum drugs I had on my shelves, wanting something more and not knowing what. Cold turkey is pain, man. Since then I've developed the habit of reading three or four books at the same time, so if one ever lags I can switch effortlessly to another--never come down.

I started school early n skipped a grade somewhere in there, from sixth to seventh I guess it was, so I graduated at sixteen, then started college n finished that in three years (I was driven, man--hadda have those drugs), n started teaching before my twentieth birthday. Scary shit, being an authority so young, so I was high pretty much most of the time, tryin to dull my senses, you know. Taught like a bat outa hell, taught the shit outa those kids, n all the time fed the monkey on my back with books, books, more books, n degrees too, while I was at it, every one of em in record time. Did my Ph.D. in two years, beginning to end. It'd never been done before, that fast--what a rush! Before I'd even defended my dissertation I sent out query letters to three university presses, seein if they were interested in havin a look; Cornell n Princeton weren't, Johns Hopkins was. Six months after I got my degree, Johns Hopkins accepted my dissertation for publication. Almost OD'd on that one, fried my brain with visions of greatness, fame, stardom; hadda back off a little, step down my dosages.

Right around this time, I guess I was in my late twenties, I started doin RCP. You know, Read Conference Paper. I'd see some call for papers that interested me, send in a proposal, n get on the program. Though you gotta understand, "interested me" doesn't mean the same thing to an addict that it does to an ordinary person (not that I've met too many a them, so how would I know?). I was doin so much drugs at the time that you'd a thought the last thing I'd feel'd be withdrawal symptoms, but there I'd be, flipping frantically through the forthcoming meetings of "interest" (more like obsession) in PMLA, looking for something, anything, I could plausibly speak on. I needed that fix so bad I was dyin. I'd go down the list, thinkin "Ghost Stories," hmm, what do I know about that, how could I put a little twist in that so I could offer em a paper? I was desperate, see? Desperate. I had to have that fix. "American Comedy"--hmm. I've seen plenty a comedies on TV! You know I've read about a million of em!

So then, you know, I'd get a paper accepted. O joy! Well actually, it wasn't much of a rush, just gettin the letter sayin my paper'd been accepted, but I knew what was comin, I could almost feel it, you know, right then when I got the acceptance letter. The conference'd start gettin closer n the tension'd start buildin. I could feel it in my gut. It was comin. I'd stall off writin my paper, cause I'd always know just when the moment hit, n didn't wanna jump the gun; that'd ruin it, somehow, you know, doin it early. I had to write it at just the right instant, usually a week or two before the conference. That instant'd come n I'd sit down at the typewriter, later at the computer, n blaze it all out in a day or two, sometimes goin till late at night, finishin it in a single day. What a high that was, boy. My head'd be hummin, ripplin through that cosmic tune of how smart I was, how I was gonna blow em away with this one, how everybody was gonna stare at me slackjawed with amazement n admiration . . . It was always hard to come down off that one, rejoin the humdrum world of family n work, but there was always the big high to look forward to. The conference itself.

You gotta understand, RCP isn't just a twenty-minute fix. If it was, it'd seem pretty silly--you know, all the build-up, all the proposals n arrangements n paper-writing n travel n hotels n shit, just for twenty minutes. The thing is, the build-up is RCP. It all is. You write letters n papers, you drive n fly n ride airport shuttles, you show your American Express card n get assigned a room n take the elevator up n open the door n check out the room n say how nice it is (n for me there's always a sexual charge checking into a hotel room), n it's like every other time you've checked into a hotel except it's different, you know, cause this time it's all part of the RCP trip. Everything's heightened; RCP destroys that dull sense of routine, that tired mundane feeling that you've done all this before, charges it with excitement n adventure, makes even generic hotel rooms feel sexy, masturbatory. You're gonna be goin up in front a people, showin em how brilliant you are--that's the rush, n it starts way before you ever enter the conference room.

It's kinda hard to explain. Thing is, it heightens some things, deadens some others. Or it heightens n deadens the same things, but in different ways, or different aspects of them. For example, it heightens every conversation you have with other conferees. You always say, "Are you giving a talk?" n if they aren't then a little of the charge goes outa the conversation, but even then they ask you if you are, n you say yes, n they say when, n you tell em, n they ask what you're gonna do in it (always do, never say--as if the choice was between "reading" n "leading the audience in a few polka favorites"), n you tell em, n they say they're gonna come, n you know they probably won't but then again they may, n anyway you've had your moment, right, your little RCP rush. But what gets deadened in these conversations is anything unrelated to either a you doin papers--anything unacademic. Whatever you talk about somehow has to be an RCP hit, even if it's just how tired you are from traveling or staying up late the night before (am I gonna be able to read my paper, am I gonna fuck it up?), or what universities you work for (how supportive are they of conference trips? does your teaching schedule leave time to do RCP?), or what session you're goin to next (if we sit together n whisper together about the papers, will that create a bond that'll bring you to my paper tomorrow?). RCP transforms everything, turns everything into RCP.

Most times you have to sit through several sessions before you get to your own, n that would be unbearable without RCP. I've sometimes gone to conferences without doin RCP, just attending, you know--didn't get a paper accepted but somehow got funded anyway--n it's a killer, let me tell you. The boredom is beyond belief. An hour n fifteen minutes (at a time, over n over again, all day!) of other people doin RCP--I tell you, it's a bummer. It's like bein the only sober one at a party; even drinkin starts to seem boring! But on RCP even other people's RCP trips seem marginally interesting, because what you see in them is yourself later today or tomorrow morning or whatever; what you see is somebody else fucking up (n you're gonna do better!) or comin across smooth n polished (n this is what everybody's gonna be sayin about you!) or bein impenetrably brilliant (n what if your paper's got too much of that?) or hopelessly pedestrian (n you're gonna blow that sucker outa the water!). Somebody goes way over time n you start mentally checking to make sure you won't; if there's any possibility you might, you start mentally cutting, testing for places you could cut. Somebody gets his pages mixed up, n you make a little mental note to check your page numbers three times before you go into your session. Somebody reads too fast, n you mentally prepare yourself to read at a normal speed, not too fast not too slow. In fact, you get real mental. It's part of the RCP rush.

So the time comes when you walk into the conference room for your session, n of course it's all different now. An hour n a half ago when you walked into an identical room, it was just a room, with tables across the front n chairs in neat rows n columns; there were some tingles from your own RCP, but it was still basically just a room, even if some Big Name was reading. When you walk into your own session, the "room" is magically transformed into a place of high adventure, a setting of epic dimensions. It's emphatically not just you n some other academic dweebs in a drab hotel conference suite reading your boring papers for an hour n then fifteen minutes of grandstanding "questions" (actually minilectures with a question mark at the end) from the audience. It's alive. It's charged with vitality, with possibility.

The difference, of course, is RCP. It's a mind drug. It slams into your cholinergic system like a ton a bricks, sends thousands a little squirts of dopamine n serotonin n shit coursin through your cerebral cortex, pumps up even the most boring everyday events with cosmic significance. It works so powerfully that you forget it's a drug, a biochemical high; it feels like life. Life would not only be unbearable without it; it wouldn't be life.

So there you are, up in front, shakin hands with the other speakers n the moderator, n you're on stage, you know, everybody's looking at you, thinkin he's one a the speakers! It's almost like you can read their minds. You know exactly what they're thinkin. N you go through the routine about who's gonna sit where n last-minute title changes n what do you want the moderator to say about you when you're introduced, n then it starts--n here's the thing: you go numb. You fucking go numb, I swear it. The RCP rush hits you so hard that you don't hear anything, you don't see anything, you don't feel anything--not even your own paper. Nothing. If you've got any presence of mind left at all, it's only to say to yourself, good thing I'm readin this, otherwise I'd be fucked! I guess the RCP leaves you just enough presence of mind to think that, since thinkin that is what keeps you hooked on the drug.

N you sit there through two or three other papers, utterly deaf dumb n blind, till your name is called, n you go up to the podium n make a few nervous remarks about how this is a much condensed version of a longer argument or a rather tame version of a much more radical argument or some such--setting up an RCP-induced hallucination in the minds of your listeners--n then you start reading. Here the drug just takes over, drawing on all those years of addictive reading from your childhood n early adulthood. You don't think, you don't feel, you're not even there; you just read. Or the drug does. N you start at the beginning n you go to the end, n then you sit down. If it goes too long, tough shit: too late to change now. The drug overrides all other stimuli, including scribbled notes from the moderator sayin "5 mins" n "time" n "stop or I'll blow yer fuckin brains out." You have no idea what the audience is doin, or if it's even still there. You're high. You're in la-la land.

Then it's over. You get to the end n sit down, n start comin down. It's over, you can relax. But it's like comin outa general anesthesia. You're all groggy, logy, disoriented, like where the fuck am I n what hit me. If you're lucky you still have somebody else's paper to sit through while you recover from the effects of the drug, before you have to start answerin questions. Sometimes you have to dive right in: you sit down n the moderator says any questions n somebody says yeah, I got one for Professor R., n then you're on the line. Fortunately there are some stock answers you can use to stall for time, or even deflect a question entirely, like "That's a really good question," or "Oh, no, I agree completely, that's more or less what I was trying to say in my paper," which gives you time to wake up n find the one point where you disagree strongly enough with the questioner (n know enough a what you're talkin about) to blast em outa the water.

Then, somehow, you coast through the rest of the conference n fly home, feeling drained, sucked dry.

Most academics see no harm in RCP. It's become so much a part of their lifestyle, like coke for other young professionals, that they think nothin of doin four, five, even six or seven RCP trips a year. Sure, it's exhausting, but so what? So's sex. The rush is so big, comin down no worse than off any other drug, why not?

I was one a those people for more years than I care to remember. I listened smugly--not really listening, you know, just flappin my ears really--to concerned probing from family n friends about my drug abuse, thinkin these jerks don't know what they're talkin about. Thing was, everybody in the trade was doin it. It was the thing to do. Well, I guess there were some peripherals that didn't do RCP, but they were zeroes, you know? Hardcore teachers, mainly; people with no eye to advancement. People who cared about lower-level undergrads, nonmajors, people who didn't mind teachin four n four a freshman comp, yecchh. So, what, I stop doin RCP n become one a them zombies? No thank you mister.

But finally there came a time when I just couldn't ignore the pleas of those who loved me any more. There'd be times when I was off to a different conference three, four weekends in a row. I was spending more time on RCP than off it. I'd come home from one conference n have to start writing my paper for the next. The highs got shorter, the letdown longer. I was isolatin myself from the family, talkin to my computer, pacin the floors late at night. N the worst thing was, no matter how destructive the drug got, I had to have more. I'd be home for three days between conferences, frantically tryin to get my paper written for the next, n some call for papers'd catch my eye, n it'd be perfect for me, n I'd start writin a paper proposal right that instant, put everything else on hold. My conference behavior got more n more erratic. I'd spend all my time meetin people, networkin, but it was all me, me, me, my paper, my brilliance, my career. N at the same time it wasn't me, it was the drug, it was that cursed RCP! People startin avoidin me, giving me these looks, like THERE's an OD waitin to happen.

Finally, a colleague a mine who'd been through the wars spoke to me. "Get off the RCP, Doug," he said in a gentle voice that brooked no opposition. "It's eatin you up. I've seen it a hundred times. I've been there myself. Get off it."

I looked at him with tears in my eyes, noddin yes but still sayin no. "How can I?" I said, feelin miserable. "I'm hooked!"

That's when he told me about Academics Anonymous, n brought me to one a these meetings. Some a y'all've been seein me here these last few weeks, but I haven't said anything, bein ashamed, you know. I don't know of what, seein all a y'all've been there too. But there it was, I felt ashamed. Ashamed of who I was, ashamed of how I'd let that drug ruin my life. It wasn't until tonight that I found the courage to speak up. I don't know how good I'm gonna be at livin without RCP. I've cancelled a few conferences, n already it's gettin me down. I've listened to what some a y'all've been sayin about goin to conferences to learn things, n to meet people, really meet them--not just make professional contacts. Some a y'all've talked about pickin conferences n things to go to that really interest you, like you, Sam, goin to warrior weekends, n you, Liz, goin to welding fairs, n shit. Some a y'all've said you actually talk papers at academic conferences, walk in with no written paper to read, n just talk, n you say that you actually get over the fear n start feelin something, start interactin with people on the panel n in the audience, n come away feelin like you've gained something, learned something, even been transformed somehow. N all that sounds great, n impossibly hokey n corny, n--n--n I just wanna say that I'm feelin better already, n feelin horrible, n I love y'all, right here from the bottom a my heart. I'm gonna make it, I know I am, cause y'all're gonna help me make it, right? I know it.

Back to RCP contents.

Copyright 1993 Doug Robinson and Bill Kaul