I just received an email today from a scholar I admire and whom I met for the second time at the MLA. Apparently he looked me up, post-MLA, and discovered that I'd published something that overlaps significantly with his own work--and he was contacting me to apologize for not having known about my article and therefore not citing it in his just-published book. He would, he said, go to the library and read it this afternoon.
Now, in point of fact, we were on a panel together a few years ago, presenting papers on exactly this material. He was very complimentary about my paper at the time, and we emailed for a few weeks afterwards to exchange papers and discuss our projects in a small way; he was nice enough to send me a draft version of one chapter of his book, and I mentioned that I had just had an article on this material accepted in [Journal].
This was all very flattering, and although I wasn't able to attend the next few conferences where we might have run into each other, I was pleased to have made what seemed an important connection. I thought, "well, he knows who I am. And of course he reads [Journal]. He'll see my article and I'll run into him again sooner or later." What I did not do (and here's this week's networking lesson, kids!) was ever contact him again to check up on his book's progress--even though I was excited about it and frequently wondered how close it was to publication--or to toot my own horn when my article came out. It never occurred to me that that either of those things would be welcome or appropriate.
And so yes, you guessed it: when I went up to him at MLA to reintroduce myself and tell him how much I'd enjoyed his paper and how delighted I was to hear that his book had just come out. . . he obviously had no idea who I was.
Oddly, I'm not especially vexed by this (although I would have loved to have been cited in his book, and one does prefer to believe that one is, well, memorable). In fact, what strikes me most is how generous this scholar was to me on both occasions: after our first meeting he took the time to contact unimportant, grad-student me, and when he did, he did more than simply ask for a copy of my paper. And after our second meeting, even without remembering who I was, what I worked on, or how we'd met (and even though most of our conversation was just chit-chat over a meal with a bunch of other people), he took the time to look me up and contact me again. It's a rather inspiring model for how to be a member of the profession, and one that I hope I'll emulate when I become a more established scholar myself.
That being said--I hope I'll also do a better job of remembering someone's name, face, and physical existence.