It is a confusing thing composing your own epitaph, but I will give it a shot. I suppose there is only one proper place to start, and that is with the byline. Have you ever wondered what is in a name? It is one of the few things that is decided for us, and (typically) will stay with us for the rest of our lives. Some people grow into their names, others grow out of them and into titles, others into nicknames, and still others feel the need to reduce to the lowest common denominator (Madonna, RuPaul). Ever wonder if Napoleon would still have a Napoleonic complex or if Lou Gehrig would have died of Lou Gehrig’s disease had they been named otherwise? Kind of makes you think. Perhaps there is something fatalistic in a name.
I dropped my first name some time ago in favor of an initial. Call me egocentric, but I thought it carried a certain mystique that full names tend to obfuscate. I walk around and people ask me all the time, “Hey Flavius, what does the S. stand for?” It never occurs to them that it might stand for itself. I could respond a variety of ways, but my reply is always the same: “It is secret, of course.” Ambiguity goes a long way in my (by)line. I think they can understand.
Others are more cunning in their thirst for knowledge, their inquiries deep and searching. Once and a while I while hear, “Hey Flavius, is your name Latin? What does it mean?” Sometimes I shrug and sometimes when I am feeling more enigmatic I will throw the question back, “What does Bob mean? Or Condoleeza?” This is not the response they expect or want, but I think it answers their question as well as any long-winded, etymological explanation could. There are still others more audacious to suggest that S. Flavius Mercurius is a “fake” name. I guess when you have a name this exotic such slanderous libel is to be expected. “But how could I be fake if you had to ask me?” I tell them. Did they expect my answer to come from someone else?
A name is essentially meaningless and in a sense, is reductive and debilitating. Labels are cruel; they not only tell us who we are but who we are not. If I had it my way I would have a different name every day, although I can appreciate how impractical and confusing this could potentially be. But think of the freedom! Today Jennifer, tomorrow Euphemia. Can you picture it? I am sure that you can. Everyday something new; a fresh name and attitude to go with it. The possibilities are endless and the prospect quite liberating. At the least you could expect a stock increase in name tag sales.
Change is bad, some will say. Consistency is what you need. How could you possibly fit more than one name on your gravestone? I suppose this is a valid complaint, but who was it that declared an epitaph must be legible? I kind of like the idea of resting beneath the headstone no one can make out, almost as if scrambled in code. People will wonder, fill in the blanks with mystery. It is not anonymity, but the opposite-duplicity. Someone and no one at once.
You might be wondering at this point why this rant has spun into morbid conversation about death. For one thing, I am due to graduate and despite best laid plains to self-sabotage, it looks like I will walk in May. And, like Socrates before me, it is time now for me to drink the hemlock and proudly walk into the dark backward of forgotten staff writers. It was my conceit that there would be a legacy left behind, a myth larger than a name, but the school has policies against these kinds of things. Is poor Flavius a one-trick pony? They might have you believe so, but I think you know better. I walk the same hallways, sit in the same classrooms, compete for the same parking spots. I look around campus and I find communion in your faces, in your smiles. Is there an S. Flavius Mercurius out there? I am certain of it because I have seen it-seen it burning in your eyes.
I would like to take a moment to drop a few names in this space and give a shout out to my editors, Jamie DeLoma and Kellie Gleeson, who are fantastic people and talented writers despite their unoriginal monikers. They also have managed to put up with me despite missed deadlines and at times, questionable content. I would also like to thank advisor Scott Hazan for his flexibility and understanding, and let it be my parting gift that he enjoy a publication without controversy in my absence. Well, maybe that is saying too much.
I am trying to avoid sentiment here, but the temptation is too great. I am going to miss occupying this space with my nonsense and the dozen or so people who actually read it. With the name came a purpose and a responsibility, like a brand of quality. I like to think of Flavius as the one who told you exactly how it is-Bush is bad, smoking is good, and all strip clubs some come equipped with ATM machines. So who is S. Flavius Mercurius? Mind as well be you; it certainly is not me. I am told the Chinese have an old proverb about this. I am sure it is a good one.