I've had sleeping problems my entire life, often inspired by intense dreams and nightmares. My current therapist thinks it might have something to do with the over-priced garbage I order on Seamless, my poor stress-management skills, and how I go through phases where I consume heroic amounts of weed before quitting cold turkey—a habit some sleep experts think leads to supercharged REM cycles.
Whatever the cause, recently my dreams have been more acute and stressful than ever, and it's made me curious about what goes on in other peoples' heads at night. To find out, I'm starting a new interview series called Dream Dealing with zZz (you know, like the sleep-related emoji... and my name), where I ask people with creative brains about what's swirling around in their cortexes while they rest. Not only will I ask them what they think their dreams mean, but I'll ask a vetted dream expert to read and offer a professional's take on them.
This is a series for dread-filled dreamers and stressed-out somnambulists, and after a recent conversation, H. Jon Benjamin said he fit the bill. The comedian, who provides the unmistakable voices of the titular characters on Archer and Bob's Burgers sent me a particularly horrifying nightmare, which he agreed to publish below.
After asking him some follow-up questions about the dream, H. Jon shared what he thought it could have meant. Since he's obviously biased, I had a certified Jungian Analyst and Director of Training of the Jungian Psychoanalytic Association named Morgan Stebbins send us a second analysis.
Note: Dream analysis is by no means a foolproof science, and readers should take the analysis with a grain of somnambulist salt.
H. Jon Benjamin's Dream
H. Jon Benjamin: I was in a boat or maybe not a boat, but a banquet room, like in the Titanic. It was all wet, which is why I assume it was a boat and not an old-tyme hotel that happened to be wet... but logic informs that it was a sinking ship because the water was ankle deep and my clothes were wet and my hair was wet.
I am presently balding, but I remember having hair in this particular dream.
I was trying to find my son, who ostensibly was on this boat. I saw him running away through a door and I started running after him, but a bunch of people got in the way—like a parade of people streaming by, maybe, like, a protest march or a carnival or something—and through this crowd I saw my kid poke his head through the doorway, now with a cigarette in his mouth.
A woman came up to me who was the grown up version of a girl I knew in junior high. She definitely seemed older now and she came to kiss me, but I turned my head because I felt this overwhelming sense that I had bad breath and I didn't want her to get a mouthful of my nasty mouth.
If you want the short version: I felt a stinging panic that I lost my kid on this wet boat, and I had bad breath on the boat.
What H. Jon Thinks His Dream Means
H. Jon Benjamin: Look, this dream seems pretty obvious, almost boilerplate. If there was a Freud Dream-Puzzle Kit ™ you could buy at Urban Outfitters, like those annoying word-magnet poems people have on their fridges...
Think about it: water, sinking ship, cigarette, getting stuck in a crowd, not kissing a girl from junior high... it's like a standard recipe for existential dread.
I'm not sure if the dread is about my son because our relationship appeared to be fine until recently. He's 12 and his brain activity must be so conductive with mixed signals that I'm proud he just gets through the day.
If anything, more often than not, I'm obsessing over or stifling the desire to obsess over becoming obsolete. Getting older is like slowly disappearing and I feel like I'm scared to die. But, to be fair, I'm Jewish and fear of death started around middle school... the age my son's at.
What a Jungian Analyst Thinks H. Jon's Dream Means:
Morgan Stebbins: I'm going to look at this dream without looking at the subject's analysis at all, as if it were an artifact unearthed from an archeological dig. Dreams show us what is real in the psyche. That is, what we don't know that we should know.
Let's start with the boat reference. Many of the great nekyias happen using the narrative of a ship; it's the night sea journey of the hero motif. A ship is a collective and archaic mode of transit—meaning he's in a serious transition period common to everyone, and hasn't found the particular way through. This is deep, but common to mid-life crises... or a strong move toward individuation. They are the same thing, but it feels like the crises if you're not aware of it in reality, and like the individuation if you are aware.
If the scene is actually the banquet room of a ship, then it's called, technically speaking, deep shit. This seems likely, and 'the event' that caused it (the iceberg) has already happened. His lack of clarity about which scene this is shows inner confusion about what he is going through. But if it is a Titanic situation, there's not nearly as much panic here as one would expect, which is the reason it's a dream.
He has hair in the dream, but is bald in real life. Hair connects to youth and strength, so symbolically this is showing that his psyche sees him as more vibrant than he sees himself consciously. That conflict is part of the suffering.
As for his son, there is a saying: the son is the father of the man... In any case he has lost that which will 'go forth from him.' The son connects to future and vitality (similar to the hair). Plus, it's total panic to lose your kid. There is likely not enough awareness of this dramatic situation at a conscious level (unless he was woken up by the dream), and the dream is trying to make up for that. The kid is not lost, but running away. That's quite different. Something, apparently, needs its own space, or a new kind of relationship. This could have to do with his actual son, and also has to do with his attitude toward what he has to let go of.
The people in the way of the dreamer as he chases after his son show an attitude toward humanity and the flow of life, while the protests he sees emphasizes rebellion. This rebellion point is emphasized by the cigarette, which sounds like it's reading a little older than the age of the actual son, and probably showing some pushback (a la James Dean). And when your kids are grown up, you face the void. Well, at least you do when your parents die.
If you want the short version: I felt a stinging panic that I lost my kid on this wet boat, and I had bad breath on the boat—H. Jon Benjamin on his dream
There's lots to explore about the memories of the woman from his youth. Because she's coming back, she's the one that got away (at least in terms of his inner development). Her qualities represent what he has not become aware of in himself. Internally speaking, she is connected to his feelings. Since she wants to be closer to him, the psyche is trying to connect him with his true feelings.
He turns away from himself at the soul level, for a reason (bad breath) that is fine at the social level and irrelevant at the meaning-of-life level. But, symbolically, something smells bad—or what comes out of his mouth is rotten, that causes this separation. He probably knows what that is.
He then has this conclusion: I felt a stinging panic that I lost my kid on this wet boat, and I had bad breath on the boat.
Indeed panic, but not nearly enough and not the right kind... because the kid is not 'lost,' but has rather 'ran away.' And it's not about bad breath, but loss of soul (meant non-religiously, but rather as soulfulness).
Finally, he suggests existential dread. Existential dread is funny if you're really rich (this sounds like a Woody Allen line), but not so much for the rest of us. And for everyone, we either become obsolete (meaning we stay with the values of youth and collective culture) or we individuate. That is, we find meaning, have deep relationships that make our short time here worth it, and become uniquely whomever we are, weird or vanilla—and not according to the world's values. Instead he's doing the quite normal thing of relying on his work (his symbolic offspring) to go forth in time and protect him from the void of meaning (and relying on his actual son as well, unfortunately).
At least he is relying on his role as the dad of a certain age kid. Part of the challenge of parenting is changing the kind of caregiving you do over time (and sometimes we just about let go, if that's best for the kids). If we are identified with a certain role, then it does indeed become obsolete.
Follow Zach on Twitter, and visit Morgan Stebbins' website for more information about his Jungian analysispractice.