My experience of imps is, if not extensive, at least sufficient. Sufficient for what? For knowing an imp is present when I sense one.

Searching for imps

I searched for images of imps on the Internet a few years ago (2022). There weren’t too many of them. I was a little surprised.

One of ones I did find stuck with me for a while. I would see it everyday, unsure exactly what kind of trickster it was. Technically there were three of them, which makes sense, because they do tend to multiply:

imp with cards

I found this image in Le Grand Etteilla, ou l’Art de tirer les cartes, a work first published in 1838 that remixed information from earlier works on the tarot deck. So maybe the image is actually from an earlier, 18th century Etteilla work.

Anyway, they were mine now, so I inverted these imps, and then I made them green:

inverted imp with cards

green imp with cards

And they stayed with me when I was spending time with NIWR, which is to say when I wasn’t sure how playful or perverse I was being.

Keeping imps around

Mischief is what imps are known for, so it can be a bit challenging to keep them around. The nature of their mischief, in my experience, can be playful or perverse, or both at the same time. It’s often hard to tell if they are working with me or against me, and they show up, invited or not, when I’m not so sure of my own motives either. So when I sense them, I let them in, and we try to figure it out together.

I worried for a long time that my most loyal imp was the Imp of the Perverse. That’s the imp that Edgar Allen Poe captured so well in just a few pages. I dwelt on the passage about time, action, and delay:

We have a task before us which must be speedily performed. We know that it will be ruinous to make delay. The most important crisis of our life calls, trumpet-tongued, for immediate energy and action. We glow, we are consumed with eagerness to commence the work, with the anticipation of whose glorious result our whole souls are on fire. It must, it shall be undertaken to-day, and yet we put it off until to-morrow; and why? There is no answer, except that we feel perverse, using the word with no comprehension of the principle. To-morrow arrives, and with it a more impatient anxiety to do our duty, but with this very increase of anxiety arrives, also, a nameless, a positively fearful, because unfathomable, craving for delay. This craving gathers strength as the moments fly. The last hour for action is at hand. We tremble with the violence of the conflict within us,—of the definite with the indefinite—of the substance with the shadow. But, if the contest have proceeded thus far, it is the shadow which prevails,—we struggle in vain. The clock strikes, and is the knell of our welfare. At the same time, it is the chanticleer-note to the ghost that has so long overawed us. It flies—it disappears—we are free. The old energy returns. We will labor now. Alas, it is too late!

I worried I developed a desire not for delay (God knows I wanted things behind me, not in front of me), but for the anxious energy that comes with it. Maybe it wasn’t a desire, maybe it was a habit. An addiction. And like with all other addictions, heightening the sensation (as was it seemed my imp’s desire) required going even deeper, playing even more games with time than I had initially intended.

In Poe’s story, it’s clear that even the Imp of the Perverse is not all bad. In the narrator’s case, it’s this very imp that leads him to confess to a murder he would have absolutely gotten away with otherwise. The imp’s perversity in this sense is neither good nor bad; it is merely about doing something we feel we shouldn’t. That makes it seem bad, but what if we are wrong about what we think we should do?

I think imps are useful for precisely this: questioning what we think we should and should not do. With any luck, they will show up more playfully and less antagonistically, but I can understand their need to be forceful at times.

A dog imp

Separately, but related to imps, PM once told me one of my dogs seemed rather impish (from a photograph). That was a good catch.

Below, Stevie, true imp of her dog world, which overlaps almost completely with our household:

Stevie the dog imp

(Dudley looking handsome as usual in front of her.)

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