Yes is such a better word than no.

Three little letters that open doors and smiles and eyes and ears.

A sweet sound that draws you up and out and helps you find the tips of your fingers at the end of your arms like a joyful jump into the sky.

Yes.

Yes.

Yes.

Yes I say yes to yes because all the best things that have come to me have come to me after I’ve said it. Kisses and kids and you.

A dog that whines when the ball is trapped under the credenza.

A house that is full of noise from kids who get up too early when I want to sleep late with you.

Afternoons of ice cream and Boston floats just because it’s hot and a boy with big blue eyes says, “I’m bored.”

An apartment in NY that seemed too small for one, but was big enough for us both.

Yes, even when my mouth is lying, it sits better in my heart which opens just a little bit when I hear it. Like that one time you asked me if I wanted to drive up to Fort Bragg and I said Yes when I really felt No and we discovered a traveling family circus out on the bluff and watched trapeze artists catch each other in the glowing tent under the big silver moon.

Yes, I love you with all my everything, even the parts you think no one can. Even the parts that make me angry because I’m thinking about myself when they knock on the door and ask for help and I don’t stop to look up and really look at what you are asking for.

Just yes in every way.

Every once in a while you look at me and say, “I”m guilty of a rookie parent move.”

It makes me wonder if you think I have another set of kids somewhere that I tried all this out with first.

For the record: I don’t..

I came in late to back to school night and had to stand along the wall with the other late Dads. She was not hard to spot. Her body was tilted forward with listening as the teacher went on about the grades and participation requirements. There was a pause in the speech and she turned her head ever so… and her eye caught me and she winked. She winked at me with a broad smile and a little star light.

And it made me feel the way I did the first time she opened a door in NY to show me, her prospective sublease tenant, her tiny one room apartment, saying, “Welcome. Come on in.”

I was working on Wall Street on the Over-the-Counter markets when it happened. I went out with Coonie and Andrew and drank dark and light beers at McSorley’s until it got dark. Then I went around the corner to the place that had no name under the stairs on St. Mark’s and drank some more.

I staggered to the last train with a paper bag in my hand. I remember the sick yellow light of the car as it lurched out of the station and then the next thing I knew the conductor was calling “Dover! Last stop!”

Dover? I don’t want to be in Dover I thought. But it was the last train and I’d missed the place where I needed to change trains.

I called Mom.

I’m not coming to Dover for you. You figure out what you’re doing.

So I wandered around in the dark and growing summer cold until I found a park and laid down to sleep.

When I woke up I found myself in gravestone mason’s yard, surrounded by blank tombstones.

And that’s what it was like. I was falling asleep and missing all the stops in life that mattered, waking up instead at the end of the line in front of a tombstone with nothing on it.

It took another 15 years to realize that I didn’t want to live that way.

I was driving home and realized that yelling at my children is like screaming at flowers. Except that when you raise your voice to flower, it simply moves in the wind, unaffected by your voice. But children—they wilt from within.

I was having breakfast with a Dr. who was talking about some of his patients who had cancer for which there was no turning back.

My father had been a patient like that for some other doctor, so I understood a little of what he was saying. I could imagine what it was like for him.

Eventually the subject changed. We moved on to something more glib and easy. Our kids. Movies we’d seen recently. The greatness of “Catastrophe.”

I don’t know how, but somewhere, in the middle of a laugh, I said, “Well, it’s not like we won’t be doing this again.” Meaning the breakfast that had just arrived.

He laughed too, but said, “Actually, even if we do have breakfast again, this will be not just the last time, but the only time, we have this one.”

It made every blueberry I had that morning sweeter than ever.

It’s early. But something has awakened me. I try to wait, but the darkness won’t fold back in and my mind starts a gentle gallop. So I get dressed. I gather up my paperwork. I kiss H goodbye.

Today, I’m meeting D in the park. I’m doing my 4th step.

It’s all “I don’t wanna” and “I hate this” and “I never asked for this” when it’s time for music lessons.

I know I’m ruining their lives.

I hope some day they see why. And thank me for it.

In the meantime, I’ll have to live with it.

And so will they.

Every thirty minutes, it’s something new and the experience is increasingly like riding across a jagged and unpredictable terrain.

From difficult personal problems, to ego stomping fits of rage, to fixing errors, to reading long emails with a larger point buried between the lines, to triple booked calendar requests, to executive demands made at the last minute, to thoughts in my own head about unworthiness and being found out and “they’re out to get me”, to elevators that are slow and staircases that are long and lonely…

And so I just want to yell, FUCK YOU, I’M JUST A HUMAN BEING TRYING TO BE HAPPY IN THIS WORLD, but I can’t because it wouldn’t be “appropriate” so, if you’re me, you yell at the version of yourself that’s been hiding in your mind, the one in the closet who is lonely and afraid of what’s on the other side of the door and is trying to forget by pretending to be Captain Kirk (the first one) which just makes you feel sadder than sad, a feeling you are powerless to stop.

And then you breathe and badge in at the elevator and hope you’re not too late for the next meeting.

And, if you’re me you wonder, has it always been this way and I’m just noticing now? Am I spiritually fit for this? Or really, anything at all?

Where does your lap go when you stand up?

Where does your fist go when you open your hand?

All things include no things.

“I’m lying” can never be true if it is true.

You can never catch your breath. You can never hold your breath.

A line that never touches is a curve.

To know you are thoughtless is to have a thought.

Your mind is not your brain, but without your brain, you have no mind.

Your future and past only exist in the present.

Dana, naked, is alone in a narrow light against the night sky.

As she speaks, the stars grow dim and the narrow light becomes brighter, more intense.

DANA

I thought, thought that even that would go and there would be nothing left at all. No shadow, no imprint, no... just... But still I lay there, on the hot salt caked earth and tried to be still. Absolutely still and watched the sun through my eyelids until there was this buzzing. This buzzing in my ear. Buzzing. And then I felt something on my lips. Something. And I, for the first time, I wanted to speak, speak: Richard, Richard, is that you? Is that... and I tried to kiss it. My lips – the only movement I made – to kiss, connect and then, only a little, only, and and and this pain came, this sharp biting pain and I thought Jesus Christ, Jesus and I opened my eyes to the sound of the buzzing heat and I saw that they were there, they were there in a black swarm, around me, flies, bellies as big as thumbs, trying to get into me. Inside of me. Flying at my eyes. Into my mouth and nose. Trying to get into my head through my ear. Flying up the cuffs of my pants to try to get into me... to... And I was blinded, blinded by the buzzing. The buzzing heat. The buzzing light. The buzzing that was everyhere on me and over me and I didn’t know where to turn and I was calling to Richard. Where are you? Where... When I felt his hand on me, grabbing me at the hip and there was a sudden darkness and the buzzing became muffled and I could smell Richard next to me. His sweat like pencil shavings, up close. It smelled good after the stinging... after... and he pulled me further beneath the blanket he’d thrown over me, pulled me into the car and out of the heat. Jesus. Jesus he said. Jesus. And he shut the door and there we were in the little car with the doors locked and the windows rolled up and air conditioning on, sitting in the car on the desert basin floor and he took the blanket off me and looked at my bitten bleeding face and kissed me. He... he... kissed me. And then I noticed we had escaped except, except for the sound of a single fly, a single fly buzzing in the car with us.

Beat.

DANA

I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I. love you.

She looks at her hands: They are stained black.

I’ve spent a week in 2600 square feet trying to figure out if the dog is depressed. She’s been moping while you and the kids are in Los Angeles. I throw the ball for her and she runs with excitement. But I know it’s a put-on because when we get inside the house she does not trot, she walks. Worse, she walks to our bed and jumps up to curl in the space where your head would be. She looks at me with sad eyes.

I put pictures up in the boys’ rooms.

G has framed copies of the US Constitution and the Gettysburg Address and has leaned them up on the wall where he wants them to hang. I find his love for these things odd and charming. He is definitely a history boy. But I miss the days when it was all about Buzz Lightyear and Woody. The days when he did Lego “set ups” and told the stories of pirates who had parrots that could speak Chinese.

In L’s room, I find a picture of my dad and put it up near his bed. Lately he has said he is sad that he had not met his grandpa. Though in truth dad came out to meet him just a few months after he was born, there is only a photo of dad holding L while sitting on the couch. Dad smiles with L in his arms, unaware that in 7 months a doctor will tell him he only has 3 months to live. I think L does not understand death but one day, when he cries uncontrollably in the car over this loss of what he never had, I realize I am the one who doesn’t understand.

I hang the picture near his bed: A shot of dad eating an egg in the kitchen he and my mom shared. In the frame he is looking down at L’s bed, watchful.

Then I go back downstairs and wait, reading a book about a therapist who sees a therapist.

I look at the empty side of the bed. You have spent the last few weeks in our old stomping grounds: the Grove where we bought a couch; the place on Wilshire where we argued in the Mini-Cooper about when to have kids; Crescent and Sunset where our apartment sat next to the parking lot that was once the Paradise Hotel. And now you are on your way back from Los Angeles, traveling down through the Grapevine in the dark to me with two sleeping boys in the back who will be men sooner than I know.

Come home safe to me. I miss you.

This morning on the way to the gym, the word “purpose” floats through my mind in big blue neon letters. Followed by “meaning.” Then “matters.”

I talk through a whole dialog about whether any of these things can be known. I remember telling the therapist once, early on, that I believed all writers put pen to paper to prove they mattered. Even the most trivial story told was a shot at trying to show that the slightest of life’s details, theirs particularly, was worthy and meaningful, despite knowing, in the long run, no one will remember anything at all. Whatever ripples their words make in the water, the pond will eventually become smooth and still again. Like glass.

At the time the therapist looked at me like there might be other reasons for writing and story telling. But I casually ignored her. Thinking back on it, I wonder what those reasons could be… Connection? Understanding? Exploration?

Those all seem like forms of seeking meaning and purpose to me. But then, maybe they are just part of being a sentient being with a brain brimming with language that can turn in on itself too cleverly.

Then it occurs to me that there more than a few horrible people who were certain of how much they mattered, what their meaning was, what purpose they had. Hitler comes to mind and I pretend to know that he died quite sure of himself.

I think, maybe it’s better not know any of those things. And that just because you can’t know doesn’t mean you don’t have any of those things.

I wonder what the therapist thinks.

When I pull into the parking lot and get out of the car, I leave the conversation behind.

It’s time to jump on a stationary bike for 30 minutes.

He said: Dad, you know we never really touch?

I said: What do you mean?

He said: We’re just clouds of atoms. What you feel as touching is just our clouds mixing up.

I said: Really?

He said: We are clouds living inside clouds. Our spirits are like magnets for the atoms.

Oh, I said.

And I thought: This 8 year old child has just told me more about the universe and the wonder of us than all the books I have ever read.

The story went that the two girls, Helen and Mary Kay, watched their father drown from the end of a pier when his boat overturned in a squall on a Wisconsin lake.

He was a big advertising man for the Hearst papers in Chicago and so there were front page headlines about his death, like a petite célèbre. Afterwords, the girls were taken under wing by their uncle, Malachy Flanagan, to raise. Various stories characterized him as a booze runner and pimp, later a doctor who drove big cars and wore furs. But whatever was true, he was larger than life and colorful and the girls were raised well in boarding schools with a kind of glamor that seemed particular to certain Chicago Irish. (Eventually, Helen would marry a coal magnate, while Mary Kay, my grandmother, fell for a man who would manage a tin mill on the south side and paint on the side. For a while, she wrote a fashion column in the same papers that announced her father’s death in banner headlines.)

Meanwhile, their mother, Mary, who was a Fleager by name, and thus German and Scotch (read this as ‘not Irish’), took the insurance money and traveled the world (read that as ‘scandalous’). Along the way, she collected china: Wedgewood and Limoges mostly.

When she got back to Chicago, she had it painted with gold detailing and lined the insides of the tea cups with mother of pearl. Each cup was as light as the bone of a ghost.

We sat at the dinner table drinking coffee from this loot born in the tragedy of two little girls watching their father die from a dockside.

We laughed and talked loudly, trying to outdo each other with ideas and stories and insights.

Like hungry chicks in a nest, we chirped for attention from each other in clumsy attempts to prove we were worthy of the china we sipped from and the ancestors who made us.

And I couldn’t help but also sense it was all just an elaborate way to avoid thinking about the way a moment nearly a hundred years ago had cast an invisible shadow on us all.

No kids. No dog. No Heather.

Just a big empty house with a ticking clock on the wall. Counting forever as if such a thing were possible.

What the hell did I do with my time before them?

Sometimes, people tell me I should find an illustrator and pair these sketches up with Klee-like line drawings and publish a book.

I’m flattered. Even a little proud.

Then my mind runs: Yeah, I think, I could make a living off this reflected life.

And pretty soon I’m on talk shows and podcasts and taking Hollywood meeting and my life is full of airplanes and foreign cities and breathless importance.

No, really, this happens in my head.

Seriously.

But I know better. I know if I even think it possible, if the thought that it will need to meet the expectations of others (anyone), to satisfy their purchase, another thing will creep in. And the value I think they need to get out of it will pollute the value it brings to me to get it out where I can see it plain as a diagram on a whiteboard.

This is why, when I think of all the plays and screenplays I wrote for money — under commission, for a fee, on spec, to get “made”, to make someone else happy, to bring an audience in; all the plays and screenplays I gave to the dramaturg and producer and manager and agent to help me “sell” — that work so often is marked with striving and, to me, comes across as both flat and crooked: Unsatisfying.

And it’s why the plays I wrote for myself are more successful than anything else I’ve done, even if they gather dust on the shelves of the unproduced.

Which is why when the Artistic Director of a prominent NY house told me she couldn’t put the script down, that I had to get it produced, but that I had to change the ending because her audience would riot if it was made as is, I said, no.

And others heard the same.

This is not a book in the making, a career in hiding, a backdoor to Hollywood, a manuscript to be edited and proofread and forced into standard boring blah blah English.

It is not something to be monetized anymore than you could monetize an AA meeting or a Quaker gathering.

That makes it simple. And selfish, too.

Even in the sharing of it, which helps me see I’m not all by myself in my mind’s corner.

Which is to say, I know what the art is for. And not.

G drove a 1960 hunter green Mercedes with three on the tree. Once, while steering the car through the hills of southeastern Pennsylvania, I watched him take a long pull off a Rolling Rock he was nursing and breathe in the smell of the mushroom fields that drifted up from the south in the evening air from Kennett Square. He glanced back at the empties clinking around loose on the backseat floor and made some sort of decision.

He suddenly tossed the bottle out the window.

“Dude,” I said.

“What?”

“Don’t throw stuff out the window. Someone’s gotta pick that up.”

“It was the Stevenson place.”

“?”

“They have a nice lawn. When you throw them onto nice lawns, you know someone will pick them up.”

The old bookseller used to go back in the stacks and move things around. He’d put poetry from Ashbery in between volumes of Manchester’s biography of Churchill; Bowlby’s books on attachment theory found themselves next to Kerouac and Tolstoy and Agee and Wright. And the art books? Oy, what a mess. The Art of Florence shared shelves with Klee and Mondrian; Mapplethorpe mocked Jansen’s History of Art; Skrebneski lived with Caldwell and Klimt and Bloemart.

Sometimes I’d go back there and try to rework it, alphabetize it, organize it, catalog it.

But just as soon as I was done, he’d be back there mixing it again, putting Jung with Orwell together; the How To’s about gardening with the collected works of Odets.

Once I said, “You know you’re making it hard for anyone to find anything.”

He scoffed. “No, I’m making it easier for people to find themselves.”

I wasn’t going to settle for self-help pablum today. I pointed out the sales loss he was exposed to when people couldn’t find what they wanted. How they’d go across the street to Kroch’s, or Rizzoli.

It just pissed him off.

“What good is a bookstore if you only find what you came in for? How can anyone discover anything new within themselves if they aren’t surprised by the world? I don’t sell books for money. I sell them because I love them. What are you here for?”

This is why, 30 years later, I can tell you with certainty: The algorithm is shortchanging you.

It’s cold when we pull up to the pumps. The night is tough with an unwelcome chill. The blood made soft by the easy Bay Area weather makes it harder, more rigid. No one should be outside, I’m thinking.

So I’m startled when the knock on the window comes and I turn to see a pockmarked face behind the glass. She is young but there is no youth in her features. Her skin is scabby and sore filled. Her eyes plead.

“Sir, I need to get to my grandma’s house. Can you help me? I have no money.”

The boys in the back stir with uncertainty. What is this? What’s happening? I am frozen. I want her to get away.

“I have kids in the back,” i say. “You have to step away.”

The fragile wall of tinted glass between us does not protect me from her humanness or myself. It just allows it to get closer. More dangerous.

“I’m cold.” she says.

“I’m sorry,” I say back. “This isn’t the place to do this.”

Even as I say the words, I want to reject them. I want some other option.

Then she’s gone.

Later, when we are leaving, I see her in flip flops, hunched and shivering on her way into the station. I am hoping she finds help — the ride to her grandma’s — inside.

Then L, the youngest says, “Dad, why didn’t you give her the Wookie jacket in the back?”