Saturday, October 22, 2016

Beware of Imps Bearing Gifts

The Imp of Perversity has come for an unannounced visit, reminding you of a friend from the past who had the habit of arriving in some newly purchased luxury automobile that invariably broke down soon afterward. The resemblance between the friend and the Imp of the Perverse was centered in unanticipated arrival.

So far as you can best remember, the Imp of the Perverse first came for a visit during your first semester at UCLA. You were serious about so many things in those days, in particular serious about making a good academic showing. This gave some fuel to your sending the Imp away at the time of midterm examinations. 

The Imp of the Perverse assured you it understood, but warned you it would be back. Indeed, it was as good as its word, arriving at the beginning of finals week, and like your friend, bearing distracting gifts. 

In this case the gifts were stunning ideas for short stories, stunning to the point where you were certain they represented a serious breakthrough in the scope and size of stories you'd previously written. In all probability, the Imp, stung by your earlier refusal, was not meant to be put off this time.

Okay, so you almost completely ignored your planned reviews for the final exams, excited by the story ideas to the extent of telling yourself you'd been alert during lectures, were current with the assigned reading, and had a good grasp of the material.

Some years later, after you'd stepped down from the excitements and comforts of university life, you'd taken a job with a newspaper in a remote border town in the extreme south of California. Bags packed, goodbyes said to Los Angeles, you were about to depart when your friend appeared. listened to the path you were about to embark on, then said, "You don't want to do that. You want to come with me instead."

By this time, unanticipated arrivals from the Imp and your friend were of significant enough recurrence that your argumentative responses to them were shorter. Farewell, career in journalism, hello instead to summers of working at a traveling carnival, making enough to subsidize winters at your typewriter.

The appearance of the Imp of Perversity this morning came as you were making the most of your morning coffee, thinking ahead to another day on your nonfiction project. The friend who led you off to a destiny of sorts with the Foley and Burke Shows is long gone from this life, but the Imp seems if anything to be growing younger, healthier, and more intriguing. "Do you remember that story you started last September based on your brief experiences in the ROTC?'

You remembered it well, but you did not want to hear this.

"Suppose," the Imp said, "I were to tell you I have a thought for the next scene, right after the scene where you said you weren't sure where to go next."

You repeated your unwillingness to listen.

"And hey," the Imp said, "it was New Years day, and you were caught up in something about identity, reliability of narration, and nothing being what it seemed. For starters, you have an unnecessary independent clause attached to the first sentence."

"I don"t want to hear this."

"Removing that clause moves things right along to the payoff of the first scene, in which you establish a spectrum of unreliable narrators unlike anything you've ever written before. I could point out a couple of soft spots to tweak that would leave the reader gasping and you struggling to regain your balance."

You said you did not wish to hear this, but then the Imp of Perversity reminded you it was as much one of your component parts as, say, the nonfiction writer who was at well into a booklength project.

At one point in your carnival days, your friend had purchased a '41 Cadillac from a group of Gypsies in Medford, Oregon. By the time you came in contact with the Caddy's leathery seats, it was emitting a bluer exhaust than any exhaust emissions you'd ever seen before, and wanting the immediate attention of a mechanic. "This is not any Cadillac engine I've ever seen," the mechanic said. "The closest I can come is thinking it might be a Nash Rambler."

That mechanic's remark has remained with you over the years, filed with some of the things you've heard from the Imp of the Perverse. At the end of the day's work, you were reminded of it when, speaking to the Imp, you spoke of the day's work as the closest you can come to identifying it is thinking it might be a Nash Rambler.

Stories are begun by the arrival of the Imp or the Perverse, bearing gifts.

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