The most romantic thing to ever happen tome online started out the way most things do: without me, and notonline. On December 10, 1896, the man on the medal, Alfred Nobel,died. One hundred years later, exactly, actually, December 10,1996, this charming lady, Wislawa Szymborska, won the Nobel Prize forliterature. She's a Polish poet.
She's a big deal,obviously, but back in '96, I thought I had never heard of her, andwhen I checked out her work, I found this sweet littlepoem, "Four in the Morning."
"The hour from night to day. Thehour from side to side. The hour for those past thirty..."
And it goes on, but as soon as I read thispoem, I fell for it hard, so hard, I suspected we must havemet somewhere before. Had I shared an elevator ride with thispoem? Did I flirt with this poem in a coffee shop somewhere? Icould not place it, and it bugged me, and then in the coming week ortwo, I would just be watching an old movie, and this would happen.
(Video) Groucho Marx: Charlie, you shouldhave come to the first party. We didn't get home till around four in themorning.
Rives: My roommates would have the TVon, and this would happen.
(Music: Seinfeld theme)
(Video) George Costanza: Oh boy, I was uptil four in the morning watching that Omen trilogy.
Rives: I would be listening to music, andthis would happen.
(Video) Elton John: ♪ It's four o'clock in the morning,damn it. ♪
Rives: So you can see what was going on,right? Obviously, the demigods of coincidence were just messing withme. Some people get a number stuck in their head, you may recognize acertain name or a tune, some people get nothing, but four in themorning was in me now, but mildly, like a groin injury. I alwaysassumed it would just go away on its own eventually, and I nevertalked about it with anybody, but it did not, and I totally did.
In 2007, I was invited to speak atTED for the second time, and since I was still an authority onnothing, I thought, what if I made a multimedia presentation on atopic so niche it is actually inconsequential or actuallycockamamie. So my talk had some of my four in the morning examples,but italso had examples from my fellow TED speakers that year.
I found fourin the morning in a novelby Isabel Allende. I found a really greatone in the autobiography of Bill Clinton. I found a couple in thework of Matt Groening, although Matt Groening told me later that hecould not make my talk because it was a morning session and I gatherthat he is not an early riser. However, had Matt been there, he wouldhave seen this mock conspiracy theory that was un-freaking-canny for me toassemble. It was totally contrived just for that room, just for thatmoment. That's how we did it in the pre-TED.com days. It was fun.That was pretty much it.
When I got home, though, the emails startedcoming in from people who had seen the talk live,beginning with, and thisis still my favorite, "Here's another one for yourcollection: 'It's the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. thatmatter.'" The sentiment is Marlene Dietrich. The email itselfwas from another very sexy European type, TED Curator ChrisAnderson.
Chris found this quote on a coffee cup orsomething, and I'm thinking, this man is the Typhoid Mary of ideasworth spreading, and I have infected him. I am contagious, which wasconfirmed less than a week later when a Hallmark employee scanned andsent an actual greeting card with that same quotation.
As abonus, she hooked me up with a second one they make. It says, "Justknowing I can call you at four in the morning if I need to makes menot really need to," which I love, because together these arelike,"Hallmark: When you care enough to send the very besttwice, phrased slightly differently."
I was not surprised at the TEDster andNew Yorker magazine overlap. A bunch of people sent me this when it cameout. "It's 4 a.m.—maybe you'd sleep better if you bought somecrap."
I was surprised at theTEDster/"Rugrats" overlap. More than one person sent me this.
(Video) Didi Pickles: It's four o'clock inthe morning. Why on Earth are you making chocolate pudding?
Stu Pickles: Because I've lost control ofmy life.
Rives: And then there was the loneTEDster who was disgruntled I had overlooked what he considers to bea classic.
(Video) Roy Neary: Get up, get up! I'm notkidding. Ronnie Neary: Is there an accident?
Roy: No, it's not an accident. You wantedto get out of the house anyway, right?
Ronnie: Not at four o'clock in the morning.
Rives: So that's "Close Encounters," andthe main character is all worked up because aliens, momentously, havechosen to show themselves to earthlings at four in the morning, whichdoes make that a very solid example. Those were all really solidexamples. They did not get me any closer to understanding why Ithought I recognized this one particular poem.
But they followed thepattern. They played along. Right? Four in the morning as this scapegoathour when all these dramatic occurrences allegedly occur. Maybethis was some kind of cliche that had never been taxonomizedbefore. Maybe I was on the trail of a new meme or something.
Just when things were getting prettyinteresting, things got really interesting. TED.com launched, laterthat year, with a bunch of videos from past talks, includingmine, and I started receiving "four in the morning"citations from what seemed like every time zone on the planet. Muchof it was content I never would have found on my own if I was looking forit, and I was not.
I don't know anybody with juvenilediabetes. I probably would have missed the booklet, "GrilledCheese at Four O'Clock in the Morning." (Laughter) I do notsubscribe to Crochet Today! magazine, although it looks delightful.(Laughter) Take note of those clock ends. This is a college student'ssuggestion for what a "four in the morning" gangsign should look like. People sent me magazine ads.
They took photographs in grocery stores. I got a ton of graphic novels andcomics. A lot of good quality work, too: "The Sandman,""Watchmen." There's a very cute example here from "Calvinand Hobbes." In fact, the oldest citation anybody sent in wasfrom a cartoon from the Stone Age. Take a look.
(Video) Wilma Flintstone: Like how early?
Fred Flintstone: Like at 4 a.m., that's howearly.
Rives: And the flip side of thetimeline, this is from the 31st century. A thousand years fromnow,people are still doing this.
(Video): Announcer: The time is 4a.m. (Laughter) Rives: It shows the spectrum. I received so manysongs, TV shows, movies, like from dismal to famous, I could give youa four-hour playlist. If I just stick to modern male movie stars, Ikeep it to the length of about a commercial. Here's your sampler.
(Movie montage of "It's 4 a.m.")
Rives: So somewhere along the line, Irealized I have a hobby I didn't know I wanted, and it iscrowdsourced. But I was also thinking what you might bethinking, which is really, couldn't you do thiswith any hour of the day?
First of all, you are not getting clipslike that about four in the afternoon. Secondly, I did a littleresearch. You know, I was kind of interested. If this is confirmationbias, there is so much confirmation, I am biased. Literature probablyshows it best. There are a couple three in the mornings inShakespeare. There's a five in the morning. There are seven four inthe mornings, and they're all very dire.
In "Measure forMeasure," it's the call time for the executioner. Tolstoy givesNapoleon insomnia at four in the morning right before battle in"War and Peace." Charlotte Brontë's "Jane Eyre" hasgot kind of a pivotal four in the morning, as does Emily Brontë's"Wuthering Heights." "Lolita" has as a creepy four inthe morning. "Huckleberry Finn" has one in dialect. Someonesent in H.G. Wells' "The Invisible Man."
Someone else sent inRalph Ellison's "Invisible Man." "The Great Gatsby"spends the last four in the morning of his life waiting for a loverwho never shows, and the most famous wake-up in literature,perhaps, "The Metamorphosis." First paragraph, the maincharacter wakes up transformed into a giant cockroach, but we alreadyknow, cockroach notwithstanding,something is up with this guy. Why? Hisalarm is set for four o'clock in the morning. What kind of person would dothat? This kind of person would do that.
(Music)(4 a.m. alarm clock montage) (Video)Newcaster: Top of the hour. Time for the morning news. But of course,there is no news yet. Everyone's still asleep in their comfy, comfy beds.
（音乐）（上午4点闹钟蒙太奇）（视频）新手：顶部的小时。 早间新闻的时间。 但当然，目前还没有消息。 每个人都在舒适舒适的床上睡着了。
Rives: Exactly. So that's Lucy fromthe Peanuts, "Mommie Dearest", Rocky, first day oftraining,Nelson Mandela, first day in office, and Bart Simpson, whichcombined with a cockroach would give you one hell of a dinnerparty and gives me yet another category, people waking up, in my bigold database.
Just imagine that your friends and yourfamily have heard that you collect, say, stuffed polar bears,and they sendthem to you. Even if you don't really, at a certain point, youtotally collect stuffed polar bears, and your collection is probablypretty kick-ass. And when I got to that point, I embraced it. I got my curator on. I
started fact checking, downloading, illegallyscreen-grabbing. I started archiving. My hobby had become a habit, andmy habit gave me possibly the world's most eclectic Netflix queue.At onepoint, it went, "Guys and Dolls: The Musical," "Last Tangoin Paris," "Diary of a Wimpy Kid,""Porn Star: Legendof Ron Jeremy." Why "Porn Star: Legend of RonJeremy"? Because someone told me I would find this clip in there.
(Video) Ron Jeremy: I was born inFlushing, Queens on March, 12, 1953, at four o'clock in the morning.
Rives: Of course he was. (Laughter)(Applause) Yeah. Not only does it seem to make sense, it also answersthe question, "What do Ron Jeremy and Simone de Beauvoir have incommon?" Simone de Beauvoir begins her entire autobiography withthe sentence, "I was born at four o'clock in the morning,"
whichI had because someone else had emailed it to me, and when they did, I hadanother bump up in my entry for this, because porn star RonJeremy and feminist Simone de Beauvoir are not just differentpeople. They are different people that have this thing connectingthem, and I did not know if that is trivia or knowledge orinadvertent expertise, but I did wonder, is there maybe a cooler way to dothis?
So last October, in gentleman scholartradition, I put the entire collection online as "Museum of Fourin the Morning." You can click on that red "refresh"button. It will take you at random to one ofhundreds of snippets that arein the collection. Here is a knockout poem by Billy Collins called"Forgetfulness."
(Video) Billy Collins: No wonder yourise in the middle of the night to look up the date of a famousbattle in a book on war. No wonder the moon in the window seemsto have drifted out of a love poemthat you used to know by heart.
Rives: So the first hour of thisproject was satisfying. A Bollywood actor sang a line on a DVD in acafe. Half a globe away, a teenager made an Instagram video of it andsent it to me, a stranger.
Less than a week later, though, Ireceived a little bit of grace. I received a poignant tweet. It wasbrief.It just said, "Reminds me of an ancient mix tape."
The name was a pseudonym, actually, or apseudo-pseudonym. As soon as I saw the initials, and the profilepic, I knew immediately, my whole body knew immediately who thiswas, and I knew immediately what mix tape she was talking about. (Music)
L.D. was my college romance. This isin the early '90s. I was an undegrad. She was a grad student in thelibrary sciences department. Not the kind of librarian that takes herglasses off, lets her hair down, suddenly she's smoking hot. She wasalready smoking hot, she was super dorky, and we had a December-Mayromance, meaning we started dating in December, and by May, she hadgraduatedand became my one that got away.
But her mix tape did not get away. Ihave kept this mix tape in a box with notes and postcards, not just fromL.D., from my life, but for decades. It's the kind of boxwhere, if I have a girlfriend, I tend to hide it from her, and if Ihad a wife, I'm sure I would share it with her, but the story — (Laughter)— with this mix tape is there are seven songs per side, but no songtitles.
Instead, L.D. has used the U.S. Library ofCongress classification system, including page numbers, to leave meclues. When I got this mix tape, I put it in my cassetteplayer, I took it to the campus library, her library, I found 14books on the shelves. I remember bringing them all to my favoritecorner table, and I read poems paired to songslike food towine, paired, I can tell you, like saddle shoes to a cobalt bluevintage cotton dress.
I did this again last October. I'msitting there, I got new earbuds, old Walkman, I realize this is just thekind of extravagance I used to take for granted even when I wasextravagant. And then I thought, "Good for him."
"PG" is Slavicliterature. "7000" series Polish literature. Z9A24 is acollection of 70 poems. Page 31 is Wislawa Szymborska's poem pairedwith Paul Simon's "Peace Like a River."
(Music: Paul Simon, "Peace Like aRiver")
(Video) Paul Simon: ♪ Oh, four in the morning ♪ ♪ I woke up from out of my dream ♪
Rives: Thank you. Appreciate it. (Applause)