Christmas in August

Quotations are the last refuge of the intellectually lazy -- but they beat trying to think of something pithy of your own -- and this one is one of those classic quotes that I share with my high school and college students who are struggling with becoming more mature. Clichés have resonance because they reflect underlying truth, and when it comes to the fulfilling, fraught, fun-filled, fertile, formative and fluctuating, world of growing up you can't say it much better.

"Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries, when they wrote these books."

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote this in an essay I have on my shelf at home, where he eviscerates those who would become bookworms, instead of using and abusing books, as they learn and in life, and as an ode to the power of creation and its link to action.

In the last three weeks, the first five of my clients who are college students lef
t to go back to school. I've been in touch with most of them, some of them daily, most at least once a week. Emerson's quote reminds of how what we learn in "the room" helps prepare them for action in college where they will learn things in those halls that, combined with what we learn in "the room" will be put into action in life.

Along that process of preparing, it's easy to get lost on laying the fr
amework for school, careers, for law school, and for families, that college years are not only a time for preparation, but a time for action, whether its volunteering to tutor or helping out at a hospital, or making a new friendship or directing a screenplay, coming up with a great business idea or whether its painting.

It's easy to forget that Claude Monet was 26 when he painted "The Woman in the Gree
n Dress." It's easy to forget that Bill Gates came up with the ideas that would become Microsoft while he was a sophomore at Harvard. Its easy to forget that in his early 20s, Andy Warhol was laying the foundations of his pop art, that Judy Garland had already been in "The Wizard of Oz" and that by their late 20s Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain had done their best work and died.

Pablo Picasso once wrote, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."

My college-aged clients remind me of one of the most difficult battles of youth, the fight between preparing and doing, that usually comes along with trying to mature without letting go of our childlike creativity and hearts.

There are, as Picasso, alludes to, downsides to eradicating emotional immaturity, even if, in theory, it is a necessary victory that must occur on the road to growing up. Peter Pan, Aladdin and some of my clients are emotionally stunted in some regards, and while my desire to help them live good lives and be protected from the bad drives me to help them mature, I use a delicate chisel, their hand covered by mine, because I want to preserve as much that is good that is childlike inside them.

We worry for the emotionally stunted. We coddle them. We try to protect them from reality. Even Peter Pan, however, knew that the world was full of danger. One friend whom I told not too long ago that she likes "to believe that the world is full of cute things and well-meaning people" has taught me that wanting to believe that may come at a practical price but there is another cost, one that grown-ups often can't remember they've ever paid, of not having what I like to call Laura-like idealism.

There is something to be said for believing against belief.

I named this type of idealism for a friend who came to me one day and laid out her deep connection in an 18-year-old. He was 6 years younger than her. I am not sure how she expected to me to react. After watching her go through a year of turbulent relationships with fools -- she called them "boys" -- and a group of girlfriends from college that seemed to be playing in the junior leagues while she was still in the peewee league of emotional maturity, it, well, all made sense. None of these others were better people than her; in fact she had them topped in that area. She was able to connect with this 18-year-old so strongly because they lived in that same world, the one that Lewis Carroll lived with Alice, that I live with my friend's 8-year-old daughter Clara (who is such an inspiration that her mother calls her my daughter and my best friend has set Clara's picture to come up on her cell phone whenever I call) and why one intelligent client thinks that me sending her albino babies in swaddling clothes would be an appropriate reward for getting a 3.5 GPA, volunteering and accomplishing other goals. It's why I, with my ability to be callous and see the cruel world, feel the inkling to those kidnap some albino twins and send them FedEx to her college campus. (I am more than three-quarters of a mind to search for them on eBay or procure them from my cousin who has a penchant for producing adorable albino offspring; if anyone has any ideas on this crusade feel free to e-mail me at

My friend and her 18-year-old buddy have become the subject of ridicule of his family and whispers among friends; people joke that I can relate better to an intelligent 8-year-old than any adult; my other friend's parents worry with the words "there is no hurry" whenever she picks up someone else's baby and looks into their eyes. People who embrace growing up may look askew at us when our eyes sparkle in the face of youth, but there is a beautiful idealism that can be found there, one that perhaps we should all try not let completely go of as we become adults. So, bring me the 18-year-old friends, the 8-year-old spunky geniuses, albino babies and Alice and Wonderland. Even just for a moment.

We've got to find a way to grow up and keep those 18-year-old friends, those 8-year-old buddies, those dreams of albino babies, creating something great, conquering something new, inventing something no one has seen, writing that great work and painting that masterpiece. It can all come from a place of greatness. We've got to find a way to, like my college-aged client who is perfectly capable of communicating, to come into session, or wherever, and spend the first few minutes speaking through a panda bear.

This is always a sad time of year in general -- anytime so many young clients leave to head out into the world. It's a consolation prize, a more than adequate one for me, that they go out and put into action in their academic endeavors and lives the tools we have been crafting over the summer.

I truly love giving of myself to them and being a part of their emotional reward systems for their accomplishments. I'd do about anything to help them succeeded. As I once said it a much more shady context, "I took five grand and gave it away like f*in Santa Claus;" with my college students I've taken my heart and my mind, and given it to them like its Christmas in May, June, July and August.

I know they'll do good things with my investment. Trying is enough to make me proud.

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