A Stoic Pep Talk

Sage Dean inflicting his wisdom upon a friend:

I cannot stress my belief in how important it is to understand our goals, priorities, expectations, and desires. Or GPEDs for short. To know our perfect work/play balance. To wrangle one’s fear of missing out. Along with this crazy idea that what we do has intrinsic meaning. Even if we know that meaning is just a made-up justification for what we want to do.

However! There comes a time we must reevaluate those GPEDs and the made-up, intrinsic meaning that glues them all together. Dig in deep with them. Only you have control over your life and what you do with it. Or, I mean, perhaps you’re just a passenger in the roller coaster that is you. Then fuck it, scream, lean into the scary parts, maybe piss yourself a little, enjoy the ride. Just don’t throw your gum off the side, that’s rude.

Either way, don’t think that people are not envious of you, your life, your accomplishments…You’ve lived a life many would have loved to experience. Your ability to reevaluate is strong and admirable. And remember, DNA, location, parenting, circumstance, cultural norms all paved the way for our talent, fortitude, opportunities, perseverance, luck, intuitions, energy, etc. It’s all wonderfully, complexly interwoven to create a beautifully aware, conscious being who gets to experience the majesty of the universe, both being part of and apart from that magnificence.

Or something.

So, sure, others might look like they are living a “more interesting / fulfilled / fruitful / fun” life. But we are not, at least not inherently. Because all those “evaluations” are fucking subjective. So, all I can do is speak for myself, I have given a great deal of thought to my GPEDs. And into creating a life and creating a roadmap that feels true to me. Do I doubt it sometimes? Course correct? Ignore it on occasion? Of course. But I always strive to be better precisely because I am flawed. As we all are. I made it a priority to live in the moment and attempt to eliminate regret, disappointment, stress, anger as much as I can from my life. Or, at my worst, soak in their poisons only briefly before taking a nice, hot shower of mindfulness and wash that shit off.

I found that a lot of the way I approached life is in line with the stoics. And when I feel like labeling myself, a practicing stoic is one I can get behind. And thus, I’d be amiss not to throw their wisdom at your face. Because we know that quotes change people’s lives, in fact, it’s the only thing that ever has. I’m pretty sure that was on an inspirational poster I once read.

“External things are not the problem. It’s your assessment of them. Which you can erase right now.”
—Marcus Aurelius

“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
―Marcus Aurelius

“Expectations are the greatest impediment to living. In anticipation of tomorrow, we lose today”

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
—Viktor Frankl

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you find you get what you need.”
—Konstantinos Richards & Morpheus Jagger

“Just do it.”
—some Greek god on destroying your enemies

And just to balance out the internal with external.

“Fight The Power!”
—Public Enemy


With a relationship ended. I fall back into that aching comfortability. I’ve been single roughly 80% of my life from age 18 until now. That’s a lot of alone time to think about why. And many have asked through the years, Why are you single? Perhaps it’s time I explored that.

I’ve spent a great deal of time on myself. Understanding my goals, priorities, expectations, and desires; deciphering what in my life was talent, energy, opportunity, luck, culture, cultural norms, and intuitions.

I’ve been on many first dates. I’ve chatted with thousands of people. I’ve lived with close to forty strangers who have drifting in and out of my life, some even becoming close friends. I’ve encountered many diverse people as I’ve floated through a slew of different groups of friends, always open, curiously listening, occasionally challenging, and morphing along the way. I have gotten to know so many people—the good, the bad, the strange, and the really fucking weird. I listened to them, judgments subdued, engaging, seeing through their eyes as much as I could. All have awakened me in some way. Shifted my paradigm. I love them for that, and treasure every single experience.

Even though I’ve explored it many times, I’ve never had a strong concept of identity. In a way, I still don’t. I dislike labels and I love being in flux, having intentions, but not quite knowing who future Dean will become. Knowing that the next interaction I have, whether it be with a long-time friend or a new stranger, will alter my path in ways I could never perceive. Once a friend called me enigmatic, I beamed. Looking back, not sure they meant that as a compliment. So, let me try to pull back the curtain a bit.

We phase between different worlds, different selves. There is the person you believe you are, internally. This is your trapped truth, no one can ever have full access to this, for it exists solely within. Then there is the external world, here a shadow of who you truly are, a presentation limited by your capability to express yourself, to perform, whether alone or surrounded by others. And beyond our mind lives a construct that will outlive us, the you separated from the us, the one that exists in other’s memories. Your best and worst presentations tainted by other’s perspectives and prior experiences.

I write here to externally express my internal me to a future me, and I struggle. Yet when it comes to others, I find my presentations, my expressions of self, severely lacking—my truth bound and gagged by my own ineptitude. So, historically, I am careful and deliberate in my presentations to friends and others, yet still, I feel I have failed more often than not to project the me I believe I am. Or at my very worst, wish to be. And people I know carry with them these flawed constructs. Perhaps this is why I sit here, single again.

Being single, alone, is something I’m no stranger to. Something happens when you spend that much time with only yourself. You talk to yourself. Bond with yourself. And fall in love. You see all your faults as far down as they go. And accept them. You are overly harsh and deeply caring. Sometimes you dance joyfully for no reason other than the desire overtakes you. Other times you curse your future self for knowing the better path and not being here to whisper the right words. And then there are darker days where you feel like you’ve been lost at sea for so long, memories of land begin to fade. So, you write journals to yourself, to remember, to peer inward, and unload everything without judgment. You weep knowing how no one will ever know this fleeting you as much as you do in that moment. And then your heart breaks a thousand times over knowing everyone—everyone that has ever existed—has suffered this same fate. We are all swimming in our own isolation and loneliness. I guess there is comfort in that. You dwell on past, bittersweet memories, accepting life is never static and is finite. And in the end, I have come out the other side only with the deepest love and respect for myself.

I believe the closer we get to understanding our true self the kinder we become, the more compassionate and loving we become. And the wiser we become on whom we wish to share it all with. That special person to share this crazy path called life together, to share our tears and our happiness, our pain, and our joy. To be selfless for. To, hand-in-hand, leave the bullshit behind and step into the magic together with.

Why am I single?
Because I value and love myself.
Because I learned that what I seek in a person is rare.
Because life is too short for it not to be fucking amazing.

I Would Dance in the Rain

An adaptation of the original work ‘If I Had My Life Over’ by Nadine Stair and Don Herold.

If I had my life over, I would dare to make more mistakes.

I would relax more.
I would care more for my body and mind.
I would be sillier.
I would eat more ice cream.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances.
I would go more places and meet more people.
I would be outside more.
I would climb more mountains and watch more sunsets.
I would hug everyone I meet.
I would play hooky more.
I would seek out more teachers who inspire relaxation and fun.
I would have more real troubles and fewer imaginary ones.

All of my long life I have been one of those people who live prudently and dutifully, hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I’ve had my moments… and if I had to do it again I would have more of them; one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day, yet always struggling to keep up with the minutes of the day, a slave to the nebulous, infinite future. If I had to do it over, I would be kinder to myself. I would tell myself how proud I am of me. How much I love the beautiful soul I’ve become. I would take the time to smile at my existence. I would do this every day.

I would love more freely, more recklessly.
I would throw more parties.
I would be less serious.
I would have more picnics.
I would live more of my life for me.
And I would dance in the rain.

Love Birds


MediumVarious SurfaceBristol Year2021 ArtistDAEthington

On a beautiful, calm Sunday I was lucky enough to spend some time creating art alongside a pretty special person. I wanted to help her relax, unwind, and selfishly share in something I love.

I had a plan for her to create ever-larger paintings beginning with the tiniest canvas. She was painting an image of birds at the ocean and became so transfixed I never had a chance to offer the next size up.

I began sketching the birds as well, mainly as an attempt to show her how I break down the structure of the figure. It evolved into playing around with some different mediums and styles.

Overall, the day was perfect. A sense of
geborgenheit washed over me. And I could not help but smile.

*Geborgenheit is considered untranslatable into English. It represents different things, feelings of comfort, security, and love in a romantic relationship, the openness, and honesty you feel when with a close friend, or the familiarity and warmth one gets from eating home-cooked food when they return to their childhood home.

For me, I like: the general sense and peaceful security in life; the feeling of comfort when you are in a place where you feel yourself and where you can trust both yourself and others.


Teetering on the precarious edge where reflection meets regret, my heart aches with the missed possibilities that led me to a more flourishing life. Even as I type these words, I struggle to find the right things to say or do to save a relationship, knowing one day, I’ll look back to see things so much clearer, and discover that missed opportunity. I’m remembering how I used to read Choose Your Own Adventure books, with every choice I would bookmark it with my fingers, wanting to eventually go back and explore every option. Life isn’t like this. We have one chance to learn through experience and make better decisions in the future. There is no fucking manual. No cheat codes. No replays. No extra lives.

My recent choices have led to me dating a kind, good-natured, intelligent, strong, beautiful woman who has practically zero free time to foster a relationship and lives for her job. She takes most dissenting opinions and the slightest negative observations as an attack and has dismissed much of my experience as valuable, all of which makes sense, as I feel she hasn’t really attempted to explore me as a person, mainly because of that whole no free time thing. I fear we are just too different, in our culture, our goals, our expectations, our priorities, and our ways of communication.

Being alone has been difficult these last, oh so many years, but feeling alone, feeling ‘not seen’ while being in a relationship…it’s tearing at my soul. Yet, I’m not ready to give up. We just need time, if we can just make it past the end of this bizarre world of the pandemic, she might see me differently, and I, her. We will have shared experiences beyond the lockdown, beyond our homes. Meet friends, travel, be less stressed, do that whole ‘bonding’ thing. I’m trying here. It’s not something I’m exactly experienced at. And I feel like I’m failing. Me. Her. Us.

Last summer, I feel was a pinnacle of many of my Facebook friends losing their collective minds. Once open, understanding friends were venomous and vindictive. Better angels of our nature be damned. I cannot blame them, social media has trained them for years to be this way. Even I was feeling disenchanted in the future of humanity. Still, I was feeling the loss of a community, then I lost a dear friend to cancer. A few weeks later, my mom. Her loss left a hole in my soul. I removed myself from everything and just existed for a while. No one noticed because, pandemic. Then I went on a single date and met a girl, which led me here.

To say it’s been difficult these last few years is beyond an understatement. I know everyone dies. I’ll die one day. I accept this. My stoicism runs deep in this acceptance of death. For me, death is the end for the individual, yet its pain is felt by the living whom their lives have touched. My mom’s loss was expected. And while I mourn the loss of future days with her, it also feels like it was the death of the child Dean. She was my only real touchstone to a carefree, optimistic, extroverted, awkward kid who wanted to be friends with everyone, yet had so few. She was my lifeline in many ways. I guess, no matter how old we get, we never really outgrow the need for a loving parent. Their loss is always too soon.

I guess then, it’s understandable that last year I found myself sinking into the quicksand of apathy.

Joy. My mother had it in spades and with her loss, my joy has dimmed. So, I’m on a quest to get it back. And silliness! And goofballery! And hope. These were all so very strong in me. Once. Eroded away by this villainous adulthood, life and death. But fear not, I know myself, I’ll bounce back from this past year better than ever. Right now, I guess I’m just looking for someone to help me, break off a branch and help get me unstuck. Or at the very least, cheer as I pull myself free.

Gloria the Chimp


MediumAcrylic + Oil Pastel + Ink SurfaceStretched Canvas Size12x16 in Year2020 ArtistDAEthington

Gloria, stressed, scared, and malnourished, was rescued after living in horrible conditions for months after losing her mother who was killed for bushmeat. Now, years later, Gloria safely in a sanctuary, gets along with everyone, and loves to play. She is also very independent, spending a lot of her time exploring on her own. Gloria is introspective and seems to absorb all things around her in wonder. Gloria’s gorgeous face, lovely disposition, and sweet little gallop endear her to all she meets.

The search for the perfect image for someone who loves chimpanzees took me down many internet rabbit holes. But when I read Gloria’s story, saw her photo, I knew. Gloria’s personality reminded me of this painting’s recipient: independent, introspective, and endearing. She also lost her mother as well at an early age, as did I, only months ago. Gloria is a very personal piece and will always be a favorite of mine.

All proceeds from the sale of prints will be donated to Gloria’s caretakers, the Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection sanctuary.

Synergistic Balancing

Growing up I always thought relationships could be complicated, but they didn’t need to be. With the right synergy, the right pairing, two people would simply meld together into a single entity. Years of searching have shown me that, for me, this is a rare, if not an improbable occurrence. I still do believe dating someone who holds, and mirrors, our own interests is a path towards harmony. Yet if we go too far and date someone too close to ourselves, the relationship can be mundane and fall apart because it lacks interest and any sort of challenge. The thing is, interests evolve.

It’s differences along a theme of recognition that really create the spark. It is the thoughts, actions, interests, desires, and points of view of people unlike me that I find truly exciting and challenging. For I get to learn and share! Sharing ourselves and willing to change with someone. I believe every successful relationship has a bedrock made of eager compromise—holding on to only those things which mean the world to us, being able to let go of the rest, a metamorphosis, a combining of goals, traditions, and values. With the understanding this doesn’t happen quickly or easily, and there will be growing pains.

Normal Lovey Dovey Stuff

Relationships, especially those of the romantic nature, are about choosing someone, a partner, that you think best will navigate one’s own idiosyncrasies. They are like a minefield of characteristics, habits, mannerisms, and the like, that is peculiar to that individual. Or perhaps it’s like a maze or a series of puzzles to be solved. And while physical attraction as a determinate is impossible to deny, looks fade, and what’s left behind is how well we get along, shared excitements, and the love of of our contrasts. I feel a need to be excited for the the life that I wish to bond with for the decades to come. And I’m excited to be a cheerleader to someone else’s life, as much or more so than to have someone other than me cheerleading for mine.

That said, I finally picked up some pom-poms for someone. I found her. Well, one of the variants of her that exist in this giant world of ours. (Okay, unromantic Dean, go away.) So, I know how dangerous those words can be. How many times have I thought I found someone. Or was told I was being too picky when I let them go? How many times did you believe it? How many times have you doubted yourself? Rethought past relationships you abandoned? How many times have you let aging infect your ideals in your seemingly endless and fruitless pursuit of shared happiness? Yet, here we are, you persevered and were true to what you know you wanted, what you know had to be out there. I’m optimistic, yet a realist. I know how fragile these next few months are, challenges await. And I’m ready.

I’m keeping this diary as proof that these events are real … I know they are… they have to be.

These are the words I typed in my first journal entry on January 14th, 1996—the night of my first real date and my first kiss. I was so ecstatic to finally be in the throes of a romantic relationship that I just had to document my feelings. I knew that I needed to paint these feelings, the best I could, with words. This was too important to ever forget.

Those words are lost now, sadly. But I’ve continued to sit down and transcribe thoughts and feelings through the years. Many of those have been heartbreaking and melancholy. Then this year happened. I was lost, uncertain of my future, I was supposed to move and start a new chapter with new people, new opportunities, and then the world went insane. Coronavirus exploded and political jabberings and closemindedness on Facebook left me disheartened. Then Bruce died, and then my mom. I was floating through my days like an aimless ghost through an empty, old, dusty, dilapidated house. This preamble is important because something happened in there that should have been documented.

Granted, when I first chatted with her over the phone, I was a bit desensitized and unoptimistic—I had been there countless times before after all. And what hopes were there in dating during a pandemic? But she kept up and was not dissuaded. sharing with me beautiful images of the beach and ocean. Making me smile. And then we made plans to meet. And while I didn’t document the build-up for justifiable reasons, missing writing about that night we met was unfortunate.

That said, a month and a half later, I still understand a bit why it’s taken me this long to write here. I went from being so very low to so very high. I’m living a dream. My dream. And it doesn’t quite feel like reality yet. The night I met her, I was stunned. And I’m just now shaking off the effects. Not only is she absolutely gorgeous, but she’s also kind, thoughtful, and wicked smart. It didn’t take long for me to start to fall for her.

While I missed documenting our initial date, I also missed a few other important milestones in the last 45 days, give or take. I fell in love, expressed that love, had that love reciprocated, discussed eventually living together, having children, and sharing the rest of our lives together. You know, normal lovey stuff. I LOVE NORMAL LOVEY STUFF! I’ve missed it so. As I type this sitting here, a gentle smile peeks out from the sides of my mouth. I hear her working upstairs at her desk in the loft. And it fills me with a sense of calmness.

Although, I am also hurt, the daggers of irony revealing that we’re coming together now after just losing my mom. She being my only real cheerleader throughout my life. I’ve been hoping one day I could announce that I’ve found someone and bring her home, for I know the joy that would have brought her. She told me once, a long time ago, how she really wanted to grow old surrounded by grandchildren, not a subtle hint at all. So, I cannot help feel like I have failed her. Gone mere weeks before I could have told her, “I did it mom, I found someone, and I’m happy.”

Future Dean, wish me luck. I really don’t want to fuck this one up, because it’s been a difficult road as you know. And I’m not sure what another false start will do to me, especially with one so radiant, in all the ways she is.

I'll miss you, mom

Moms. Without moms humanity literally could not exist. And without my mom, I would not exist. Not just in the sense of being alive, but in so many ways who I am is directly because of her. And she was a pretty rad mom. She was supportive, loving, joyous, and fun. I was lucky in that she was a stay-at-home mom and seemed to always be around, from every scraped knee to making the most awesome T-Rex birthday cake that any kid would be envious of.

She’s the type of mom who knew dragging her 14-year-old son along to her line dancing lessons would eventually join in and have fun dancing himself. And then there was just her good-natured way of seeing the world, how she saw the good in everything and everyone. How she reached out and helped those in need. That influence shaped me forever.

All my memories of her bring a smile to my face, from her creative nature, love of self-expression, and passion for connecting with others. My mom lives on within me and I can never thank her enough. With every breath, I’ll always be her little boy trying to make her proud. I’ll miss you, mom.