I feel like I’m always the last person to learn about something, and that makes me reluctant to share things that now seem obvious to me. But I feel like a lot of y’all who read this page are similar to me in some ways, and maybe you’ll be glad to know about this, if you don’t already.
I saw a post on Tumblr about something called “revenge bedtime procrastination”. The original term in in a non-English language that I don’t speak or write, but that’s the closest we can get to a literal translation.
Revenge Bedtime Procrastination, which has a much more beautiful name in Chinese (the literal translation for revenge bedtime procrastination means “suffering through the night vengefully.”), is a phenomena unique to people who feel out of control in their daily lives, so we refuse to go to sleep early, to exert some control over our lives, and to enjoy some quiet time alone, when the rest of our people are sleeping.
I’ve always identified as a night owl. I’ve always had trouble falling asleep, and as long as I can remember, I prefer to sleep from about 0100 to about 0930 or 1000. I’ve been like that my whole life, and until I heard about this sleep revenge procrastination, I didn’t know why.
But now it all makes sense. When I was a kid, I lived in an environment where I was decidedly not in control, nor did I feel safe and loved. The man who was my father was a relentless bully who delighted in mocking me, teasing me, making me cry, as he made it crystal clear that he did not approve of, or love me. He made it very clear that I was not enough for him, through direct and indirect actions that have left me with a deeply painful wound that I don’t know will ever heal. Now, I know he had love to give, because he gave it freely to my siblings. He worshiped my brother, who grew up to be exactly like him, and I never saw him be cruel, dismissive, or disdainful toward my sister. It was just me, for some reason. And my mother did nothing to protect me, or to call out his emotionally abusive behavior. He was endlessly cruel and emotionally abusive to me, but they convinced themselves that, because he didn’t leave marks when he grabbed me in anger, he wasn’t actually, you know, abusive. Angrily shaking me by my shoulders, jabbing me in the sternum while he raged at me, calling me names like “dumb little fuck” all seems like abuse to me. They say I’m too sensitive. More than once, they told me I made it up.
News flash: the man who was my father was abusive to me, and my mother let it happen. Worse, she gaslighted me about it when I came to her for help.
So my waking hours in my childhood home just sucked. When I was a child, I’d retreat into my bedroom and read books, design D&D characters and dungeons, and escape into my imagination, but there was always the threat of that man walking in and mocking me for existing.
As a result, I developed this Revenge Bedtime Procrastination, which gave me truly free and quiet moments of relief from his cruelty and her manipulation, when they were asleep and I was the only person who was awake in the house. That’s when I could write, when I could read books, when I could listen to music, when I could exist as a human being who wasn’t always afraid.
Today, I love my life and my family. I couldn’t be happier about my career. I mean, right now things are generally not great for all of us, and I’m ready for our current trauma to be over, but if the dual traumas of pandemic and Fascism were removed, my life would be really great, in no small part because I have no relationship with my abusers.
And yet, I still struggle to fall asleep before 0100, even with the help of my CBD tinctures and meditation. It’s something I’ve lived with my whole life, and something I never truly understood, until I read this post I referenced above.
I don’t know if, now that I know this is a thing, I can start working to convince myself I don’t need that time like I did then, because I am in a house filled with love, shared with a partner who won’t ever hurt me. I don’t know if I’m going to ever be a person who can fall asleep easily, or before the middle of the night, but at least I know WHY I am the way that I am, and that makes me feel a little less broken and weird.
This is one of my earliest childhood memories.
It is long before I had any siblings.
I’m probably three years-old. It is the autumn of 1975.
I live in the northwestern San Fernando Valley, on Topanga Canyon Boulevard, just a couple of miles south of Spahn Ranch. The Valley is largely undeveloped where we live, and what is developed is mostly farmland. In the 90s, I will be that guy who says “When I lived here, this was all farmland…” while he sweeps his hand across the view of endless development. I will be that guy every time I drive down Topanga. I will spend the rest of my life missing the quiet simplicity and wide open space that I took for granted as a child, while also accepting that taking things for granted is what children do best.
So it is in the early evening. The air is warm, but a hint of a chill occasionally swirls around us on a light breeze that barely moves the dry air. I’m standing between my parents, my mother holds my left hand, my father holds my right hand. We are in the yard that separates our little house — a chicken coop that had been converted into a home — from the big farm house that my great grandparents live in. It is their backyard, our frontyard, and my entire world. I will spend hundreds hours on that lawn, listening to Star Trek Power records on my portable plastic record player, in a tee pee that my dad makes for me out of blankets and broomsticks. It will be every planet in our solar system, and every planet I create in my imagination.
We are next to the walnut tree that will be struck by lightning in a few months. That tree will split in two, catch fire, and the part that falls to the ground will narrowly miss destroying our home. The fire will be extinguished by the rain before the fire department arrives. We stand there, the three of us, beneath the bare branches of that tree, its crisp leaves crunching beneath our feet. We look to the eastern horizon, and we look at the moon.
The moon is as big as the entire sky. It covers the entire horizon, impossibly big. It is yellow and the seas and craters are so big, they look like continents. The moon is so big and so bright, it frightens me, but my father soothes me, tells me that it’s far away, in space, and that we are safe. We stand there, my parents both younger than my children are now, and we marvel at an optical illusion that I will never forget, and never experience again in my life.
That was the moment that I fell in love with space. That was the moment that the moon stopped being a thing in the sky and became a place I could maybe touch one day. From that moment, I wanted to learn everything I could about space. I would read Let’s Go To The Moon with my grandmother as often as she would allow it. I would make rockets out of everything I could get my hands on, and imagine riding them into space. When Star Wars came out a few years later, I wanted to see it because it was about people who lived in space. When I finally got to work on Star Trek, even the longest day with the worst dialog in the first season was amazing to me, whenever I stood on a set and looked out through a window into a fake starfield, because I got to pretend that I, too, lived in space.
I grew up. A lot of things changed in my life, but I never stopped loving space. I never stopped looking up into the dark sky and imagining that, someday, maybe I’d go there and come back.
Today, I found out that I kind of get to be in space and live right here on Earth … because an asteroid has been named after me. It’s asteroid 391257, and it’s currently in Canis Minor. As soon as it gets dark here, I’m going to walk out into my backyard, look up into the sky, just a little above Sirius, and know that, even though I can’t see it with my naked eye, it’s out there, and it’s named after me.
On April 17, I was given the great honor and privilege to speak before the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC.
These are my prepared remarks. I mostly stuck to them, and didn’t improvise as much as I usually do, because I was more nervous than usual at this conference. I knew that I had to speak to children, their parents, and their teachers. I hoped that I would inspire them all to keep doing awesome things, and to do more awesome things. I also hoped that some of my remarks would be heard beyond the walls of the conference, because I’m doing my best to make a positive difference in the world.
Please keep in mind that these remarks are written to be read and performed by me, so they are probably not as strong when read as I hope they are when they are heard.