So yesterday afternoon, my good friend Tim Lynch came over to my house to install Roku on my TV. During the set-up, we installed several channels I wanted on my account, one of which was the TED channel. Tim asked, have you seen “The Museum at Four O’ Clock in the Morning”? When I said no, he looked at me as if I was the most pitiful friend he had. “Oh my god, Lezlie, how can you not have seen this?” It was clear he thought my life might be deeply flawed for not having seen this talk. I got anxious. How could I go so wrong?
He went on to explain that it’s unusual among TED talks, largely because it veers significantly from the defining features of a TED talk: delivering information and ideas with clarity and conviction using a fairly fixed rhetorical format. And so, right there, on a stormy Tuesday afternoon, with wires and cables and adapters strewn all over my bedroom floor, Tim scrolled through the talks to find “The Museum of Four O’ Clock in the Morning,” and we watched it.
Now let me say, I am writing about this piece before I have fully integrated my reactions this presentation by performance artist and poet Rives, before I have fully parsed the skillful ways it works on the mind and the heart. I am nonetheless compelled to tell my readers (and anyone else who will listen to me) that this is the most powerful TED talk I’ve ever listened to. That’s a big claim, because I have listened to hundreds of TED talks and have many that I think of as 22-minute pieces of genius. But this one is really different.
For one, it’s a talk that does not entirely fit the mold of what TED talks do. It does does not focus on informing us, or in “spreading a new idea,” the way most TED talks do. Rather, this one leans in to another side of our brain, the side that wants to be entertained (even moved) through a provocative exploration of experience. The side that wants illumination rather than education. Rives reveals a delightful obsession he has developed with the phrase “four o’clock in the morning.” Using language play, anecdote, visual and musical clips, and a high degree of physical and stage presence, he tells a story. He unearths memories, he finds quirky coincidences, he shares vulnerability, and (ohmygod), in the end, they all come together in a grand combinatorial play to make a TED talk that is more art than information.
That’s all I’m going to say about this talk right now. My intent in this post is simply to share with my readers something I am totally smitten with, and to see if it affects you in the same way. And while I’m entirely willing to concede that my life was flawed without having seen Rives in action, I think Tim was right, my life is definitely enhanced for having seen it.
I will watch this talk over and over. I will show it to my students. I will share it with my friends. I will study the beautiful design of it and the engaging humor and charm of it. But mostly, I will sit in the glorious feeling of having been moved by the fascinating mind of an man who knows a lot about artful living. Please, do not wait one more minute. Watch this talk. And then, let’s talk about it!