How do anyone eat these?

I was reading a book called about how people form their cultural taste in things like books, movies, TV, music, etc. It used the analogy of actual flavors of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami (my favourite). At first, it didn’t really stick with me, but after a few more chapters it kind of sunk in.

Sweetness meant safe. Safe to eat. Safe to watch. Safe to listen. There’s nothing really conflicting about it unless we have too much. Sour was that zing, but it lacks substance over time. Salty was, well, salty. Gamers know this well. It’s become slang for being responding unkindly, a sore loser. Then comes the bitterness. It typically means that things are rotten, inedible, and hard to swallow, yet our world is filled with coffee, tea, alcohol, and chocolate. It is an acquired taste that takes some time to adjust to, and it carries with it some depth that the typical triad of sweet-sour-salty can’t quite match on its own. Though sometimes it can be hard to digest.

I have come to believe that I embody the essence of bitterness. It’s sort of off-putting and isn’t for everyone, but the ones that do take a liking to it might get hooked.

I’ve always been a very curious person. Exploring new media has been a keystone of my childhood whether it were videogames, movies, anime, TV, and now music. I enjoyed trying new things and finding something new to like, especially when it reflects the true reality that more palatable media shys away from. Many of the movies I watch, and still watch, can make for a difficult viewing. They carry with them heavy themes, a slower pace full of silent breaks, and characters that don’t simply tell you what they’re thinking but rather unconsciously act guided by their underlying emotions. The music I write are a means of expressing the deep pains and sorrows of my life, and often the songs I connect best with were the ones written in the worst times. There’s something powerful there, to bitter-folk like me, in the darkest of emotions in knowing that they are not exclusive to oneself, that others carry the same kinds of burdens and experience the same heartaches that I do. Knowing this brings forth some catharsis, a release, and also a break from the loneliness and isolation these feelings are intricately tied with.

In terms of social engagement, I opt to skip the small talk, even the medium talk, to jump straight into the gigantic ones hovering above the atmosphere. The weather, recalling the events of the day, food, holidays, the weekend. These topics stick close to the ground level, staying below my threshold of genuine interest. Don’t get me wrong. Keeping up to date on the lives of those around me have value in and of themselves. Staying connected is a worthwhile endeavor. Yet, I can’t help but be bored or disinterested sometimes when it becomes a little too commonplace. My eyes would glaze over, though I would be listening intently, hoping things might get a little more, let’s say, complicated.

I also tend to have strong opinions based off of all of the things that I’ve read and watched, filtered through the lens I’ve polished in an attempt to better understand the world. While I remain open to competing views and constantly seek to be challenged I do tend to stubbornly push my perspective, backing it with facts and references. There is evidence that this is the worst way to convince others to change their mind, yet it is a tough habit to break. (The best way to change someone’s mind is to find truth in the other side, to foster a connection, before switching gears. I’m working on it, but it isn’t easy.) Because of this I can come off abrasive and overbearing at times. Having rough edges rather than a soft touch. Barking at everyone is not the best way to make new friends.

All of this leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. It’s like that first sip of coffee or beer as a child ,and scrunching up your face in disbelief that anyone would voluntarily consume this stuff. Yuck!

For many, I am simply not their cup of tea. Or beer. Or wine. If I had to match myself up to a poison of choice it would be coffee. Kids avoid it unless it’s in the form of ice cream. Teens don’t really need it with their endless energy. Coffee is for the tired adults hoping to make it through their day, and once they are addicted they will make up whatever excuses they need to get their daily jolt. As a stimulant, it sharpens the mind temporarily, masking the exhaustion, until the veil wears off and you realize you could really use some sleep. I’m more likely to put people to sleep with my dry humourless banter, but for the right people the kinds of observations and insights I provide help to invigorate the senses and see things from a different point of view. Give them a bit of a kick when they’re not feeling quite up to the task. Coffee is also the medium of choice for meetings, civil discussions, that chill afternoon date, and those cozy days next to a cup of java, writing the next great novel. It is the artist’s drink. Where else would you find art in a cup?

I’d like to believe I can be sweet or salty with their ability to comfort and satisfy, yet the sweet and savoriness I provide isn’t nearly as pure of a taste than that of others. If I care, truly care for someone, I can go pretty far to try to logicify their problems and try a little too hard to fix things even when this isn’t exactly what they may need. This can make the sweetness overly sweet, and the salt too salty. The gentleness of comfort foods come with a softness to them, to take the edge off the anxiety and bask in the warmth of the flavour. I may not be the most comforting person in the world, but at the least I know that if the people in my life ever wanted someone to listen to their concerns, talk about their anxieties, and acknowledge their pain I would never discount what they were going through. That bitterness is something I’ve tasted many times, and it is something we can bond over. Whether that makes it any sweeter is questionable, but at least it they don’t have to suffer the bitterness alone.

Whether it’s a drink or medical drugs, the bitterness is something we are all drawn to once we find the right one for our needs. The effect itself overcomes the recoil from the bitterness, and even makes the acrid taste something we long for. I may create moments of hesitation, that pause, that sense of disconnect for many, but in the right place it’s just what they are looking for. It’s too bad that I’m not nearly as popular as real coffee, but I’d also rather restrain from becoming a grande, pumpkin-spiced, extra whipped cream, caramel drizzle frappuccino.

A software designer-developer figuring out how the brain bits work and sharing the findings along the way