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Drawing Media, an Interview With Jim Behrle


Edith here. For the second installment of my illustrated interview column, I talked with my friend, the poet Jim Behrle. He visited us recently, so I used a photo I took in person as reference for the portrait. Jim’s latest book of poems is called Hoetry, and you can catch him hosting Bad Animals on WFMU on Mondays 8-9pm. He’s also on Instagram.

Have you read, watched, or otherwise experienced anything good recently?
I listened to a YouTube video of a female choir in Minsk praying the Jesus Prayer, which I’ve been reading about in a book called The Way of a Pilgrim, written by an anonymous monk. The prayer is simple, although I have yet to memorize it: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” There are other, similar versions of it. I just kind of had these nuns praying in the background for like an hour. It was very peaceful.


Prayer is so interesting, and I’ve always struggled with it. Like speaking in my mind coherently to an all-powerful force can seem a little redundant. God already knows everything about me. I also don’t like asking God for stuff all the time because doesn’t that make me a shitty friend? Or, if there is no God, is it silly to close one’s eyes and sit asking the vast emptiness to help me get a better job? Ultimately it may not matter one way or the other. The simple act of remaining still, perhaps kneeling, or having one’s eyes closed even for a few seconds might be its own reward. These nuns had a gentle, sing-songy mantra going on with the Jesus Prayer. I found it hypnotic, which I always like.

I saw Dune Two as well recently. It was good, although I was mostly interested in the worms and could watch a whole movie just about them.


Have you read or seen anything bad?
It wasn’t bad, necessarily, but I re-watched The Last Temptation of Christ, and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. The depiction of Mary Magdalene as some sort of jilted woman who is fucking her way through the population of the Earth because Jesus won’t be her boyfriend or something was sort of weird this time around. Some pope mistook one Mary for another in the 5th century, and we’re still treating someone mentioned more in the Gospels than any of the other apostles as if she’s a love interest rather than a main character in her own right. But there were some really interesting shots of Jesus in the desert that I thought were pretty cool.

How’d you find out about either/both?
I’ve been slowly winding my way through some YouTube avenues of Christian mysticism videos and podcasts. And I like ambient sounds and background noise. And I love nuns. I don’t like nun horror movies and stuff, just like, nuns being nuns. There’s one Byzantine nun named Mother Natalia on a few podcasts I recommend.


What’s something you’ve read or seen that changed your life?
I’ve been reading a book by Carl Jung called Answer to Job. In the Book of Job, in the Bible, God turns the life of one of his firmest believers upside down to win some pointless bet with the Devil. Jung’s assessment of God’s behavior and Job’s state of powerlessness is pretty eviscerating. I don’t know if it’s changed my life, but thinking about God not as a purely benign force in the universe is compelling.


After God destroys the world with floods, God promises not to do it again with a rainbow. There is no rainbow at the end of The Book of Job. God doesn’t promise to not do to us what he did to Job, even if we do all the right things.


Do you subscribe to anything you don’t read?
Scientific American? I always forget to read it. But I read all the headlines eventually.

Read anything you don’t subscribe to?
I read most of the stories at every week. They’re erotic mind control stories. I am absolutely fascinated by them.


What’s something you’ve lied about reading or watching? Or felt tempted to lie about?
I always joke that I’ve read the first chapter of Crime and Punishment a million times, but it’s more like the first 10 pages about 10 times. I’ve worked in bookstores all my life, and I’ve read the back or inside cover of every book I ever shelved. Sometimes that’s enough of the book for me. I also have hundreds of books strewn about in some state of me “reading” them.

Does anything make you laugh online?
I usually only laugh inside if no one is around, and I’m usually alone when I’m experiencing the internet. If other people are around and laughing, I usually laugh out loud.


Are there any cultural moments you currently think about unusually often? Like are you haunted by a moment from a TV show, or anything like that?
I thought about the first scene from the Black Lodge on Twin Peaks for a long time. Now I’m haunted by what could have happened if Big Apple by David Milch hadn’t been canceled. Not only is David Milch my favorite TV writer, he’s the only one that was doing it correctly at all. I re-watched NYPD Blue a million times, over and over. His verbal universe is so immersive.

What were you really into when you were 12?
That was when I first got interested in comic books, I think. I ended up being very interested in them for a while. I would take whatever money I made from paper routes and mowing lawns to the mall and select a few different mostly Marvel Comics for 75 cents apiece. I didn’t really know many of the characters except maybe Spider-man, which I didn’t buy very often even though I like him (I think I don’t like watching him get beat up or struggle with being broke possibly). I also thought Mary Jane was all wrong for him. But I often think that when I see couples. Honestly, who knows what couples want from each other? I liked the Marvel mutant books, like early X-Factor, Chris Claremont X-Men, and New Mutants. But my favorite for some reason was Alpha Flight, which was this weird dysfunctional Canadian supergroup.


Is there a book/movie/whatever that you’d like to experience again for the first time?
I wonder if I would like to see Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Color Trilogy again. Or maybe I only loved that at the time. The first movie that blew my mind was Star Wars, which I saw on the big screen when I was very young, and I thought all movies were just going to be like that all the time. I’m not sure that holds up exactly, either, on re-watching.


Please tell me something silly that you love.
Cassettes? They’re kind of silly. But their analog imperfections amuse me and I love having them strewed caseless around my spaces.


Have you ever written a poem to or for God?
I did write a short one that I have memorized from long ago. “God is the / man in the Coke / machine who won’t / accept my wrinkled dollar.” The line breaks may have been different. This might have been written around the time that I had my sacrament of confession rejected by a priest because I refused to promise God I would never, like, masturbate ever again. I’m glad I did not promise that, and I ended up going to confession again a few months ago, after a 33-year break.

Previously: An Interview With Jason Kottke

Discussion  3 comments

Jack Hays

The Way of the Pilgrim immediately reminds me of Franny & Zooey by JD Salinger, in which the prayer plays a huge and sublime role.

Caroline G.

I'm not sure I would watch a movie all about the worms in Dune, but I would *definitely* watch a movie about that worm you drew, Edith. He looks like he has seen some shit and I love him.


Man, I love these nuns singing. And I loved this interview.

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