The other day I was listening to NPR when Maya Angelou came on and started talking about her new memoir.
My mind drifted back to high school, when I first read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
"This woman is bravely telling her personal story to offer a guiding light to those who struggled growing up in the Jim Crow South," I thought to myself. "She's casting a light on the effects of the breakdown of the family unit.
"She's also," I continued thinking. "A talentless writer."
Nothing she wrote was the thing she said it was. Everything was actually a metaphor for something else. It's as though she made a bet with all the other Medal of Freedom winners that she could cram more obscure allusions into a paragraph than any other author.
She probably won.
Anyone can write a bunch of stuff no one understands. The real talent is writing something everyone can understand.
If I got on the air and started a newscast by saying a great chasm had enveloped Dallas as panic swept through the streets and even the bloodhounds cried out for mercy against an unseen evil, you'd probably call your loved ones or offer a short prayer.
When you found out that I was just talking about a guy who got shot trying to knock over a Taco Bell, you'd probably be pretty miffed.
When I worked in Houston, Maya Angelou called our newsroom for an interview. My co-worker, Scott Crowder, put her on hold until the interviewer could pick up.
Very succinctly did he mutter the argument under his breath.
"The no-talent hack," he said.
"But Alan, your dashing good looks hide too narrow a world-view," I can hear you softly cooing at your computer screen. "So many of the greatest works of literature are filled with symbolism. Does there exist a person who can successfully marry an artistic vision with a message that you would find suitably clear?"
It's a legitimate question. The earliest cave paintings date back more than 40,000 years. Since then, man has embarked upon a futile quest to perfect art.
But in fact, I do believe there is a person whose artistic vision is unrivaled, a person who can tell a beautiful story whose message is accessible both to the layman and the literary elite.
That person is, of course, country music singer Luke Bryan (pictured, left).
Consider the chorus to his 2010 single "Rain is a Good Thing":
Rain makes corn
Corn makes whiskey
Whiskey makes my baby
Feel a little frisky
The artist draws a correlation between the amount of rain his community receives and the degree to which his baby will feel frisky. The commutative law of mathematics tells us that an increase in rain directly leads to an increase in friskiness. The entire argument can be easily illustrated by a line graph:
In addition to a clear and concise thesis, the artist also offers a simple but profound message.
The rain doesn't actually stand for the Gadsden Purchase. The corn isn't really Manifest Destiny. The corn is just corn (for a song that prominently features both agriculture and Manifest Destiny, please consult Neil Young's "Pocahontas").
Is Maya Angelou a national treasure? Certainly.
Has her work helped subsequent generations understand a struggle that still permeates our culture? Absolutely.
Can you easily express those ideas on a line graph? No.
And there lies the greatest disappointment. A disappointment that makes the mighty oak weep with the tears of a thousand thunderheads.