Days like today make me feel like I bought my brains at a used car lot without digging through the CARFAX listing carefully enough. Not nearly carefully enough.
I am currently prepping to teach a class on Middle English literature. Consequently, I’ve been happily submerging myself in scholarship that I haven’t touched for ages; lining my proverbial ducks in their tidy, proverbial little rows; and then steadily, albeit proverbially, shooting them dead. I was happily knocking off books when it happened. Let me emend that. It happened again, for the third time in as many days.
It started out perfectly normally. It is, after all, perfectly normal to come across a reference to medieval text or poem and think to oneself, “Self, that sounds interesting. Is that on our shelves?”
“I think so,” answer I, toddling over to my burdened and benighted bookshelves.
In this particular and imperfectly normal instance, the work in question was Chaucer’s House of Fame which was heralded in the essay I was reading as including: “an abusive eagle,” a profusion of poetic wealth from centuries past that “overwhelms even the minimal level of human organization” (just like my bookshelves), and a “forest of rook’s nests” which are both “the nests of scavengers” and the “incubators of new life out of past in decay and putrefaction.”
I was sold. Irony, the macabre, literary irreverence, and an abusive eagle. Who doesn’t want to read that? Of course, I should have read it before now (what kind of medievalist am I?!), but I assured myself that you can’t read everything. Better late than never and all that.
So, I levered the House of Fame off my shelves and opened it–just to bookmark it, mind you. I sure as heck don’t have time to read it now, but when the semester is over…. And that’s when it happened. AGAIN. There on the page before me were the tiny markings of my own marginalia. It was unmistakably my writing and my writing is unmistakable.
At least, so I assume from the fact that people always feel an uncontrollable urge to comment upon it. Countless are the times that I have been told that my writing is illegible. It’s not illegible. It’s small. Alright, fine. It’s tiny, but tiny ≠ illegible. This purported illegibility has been hammered home both gently (and un-) by everyone from examiners in grad school to my own sweet kith and kin. Adding insult to injury (hammering hurts, fyi), my writing been compared to everything from Sanskrit to the tracks of panicked field mice. For my part, I do not consider it unreasonable to expect people to have magnifying glasses on hand. Preparation is half the battle in life.
Besides, illegibility is not the point. The point is that I’d very clearly read the damned House of Fame before, thoroughly too by the looks of it, and yet I had no memory of it whatsoever.
Once? “These things happen.”
Twice? “Really, Smith? That’s a bit worrisome.”
Thrice? Thrice in three days? “Clearly, I am going mad. Self, are we going mad?” Self: “You’re on your own, kid.”
Mad or senile. As I’m too young for either, both are equally discombobulating. Time shall, I suppose, tell. In the meantime, I’m going to start shopping around for new brains, and I’m reading the fine print this time before putting my money down. I may be forgetful, but I’m good with fine print.
 Of course, I don’t speak to myself in the third person. First person is entirely sufficient. Just humor us. Me. I mean, me.
 Larry Scanlon, “Geoffrey Chaucer,” in The Cambridge Companion to Middle English Literature 1100-1500, ed. Larry Scanlon, Cambridge UP 2009, p. 165.