I'm thinking a lot lately about "elegance," not only in terms of my own professional writing and the writing of the young lawyers that I mentor, but also in terms of my magic and my life. I've been particularly struck by this interview with Matthew E. May, the author of Elegance and the Art of Less: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing.
Something is elegant if it is two things at once: unusually simple and surprisingly powerful. One without the other leaves you short of elegant. And sometimes the “unusual simplicity” isn’t about what’s there, it’s about what isn’t. At first glance, elegant things seem to be missing something.
I really love that notion in terms of magic. "Unusually simple and surprisingly powerful."
One of the strongest, best magics that I ever did, one of the ones with which I'll be glad to face my ancestors, I did with my brilliant friend E. We wound up at the house of some serious activists, who were due in court the next day for, well, for speaking truth to power. We didn't know that we were going to be asked to do magic that evening and we walked off into the kitchen, away from the hub-bub of a loud, busy, party, and stared at each other for a few minutes. The people who'd asked us to work magic weren't Pagans or Witches and really didn't know what to expect from us, but were desperate and they asked us for help. They needed for it to be effective, esp. on the level of their Younger Child, so that they could walk into court (scary for anybody) and be confident. And so we looked into each others' eyes -- we'd been, thank the Goddess, doing magic together for years at this point -- and said, "Well, if they can give us a bowl, some salt, and some water, and if we can . . . ." And it all came together and it was more simple than almost any self-respecting magic worker ever worked and, most important of all, the next day, when the judge ruled, the magic, which had been unusually simple, was also surprisingly powerful and the activists walked.
Elegance, I want to say, matters. And, although life is messy, an elegant life is unusually simple and surprisingly powerful. Like good legal writing, like good magic, an elegant life takes two things. The first is a blindingly clear objective. And the second is ruthless editing. Like good real estate, which is location, location, location or like getting to Carnegie Hall, which takes practice, practice, practice -- elegance takes editing, editing, editing. Take things out. Remove the extraneous (which requires you to know the essential). Get down (as we do in Winter in the garden) to the bones. The more time that I have to work on a legal pleading, the shorter and simpler it will be. And that's what, IMHO, makes good magic -- and a good life -- as well. Get rid of stuff. Figure out, in Shilo's words, "Who is it in me I am excited about letting go?" Discover how, in Theodora's words, to travel light. What can you chip away from the stone to reveal the sculpture hidden inside? What are you willing to give up? What is it that you hold essential to find?