Earning Something New.
Coffee. Beer. Blue cheese. Sea urchin. And oh yes, scotch. You’re not born to like these things; you can’t like them. Your body is rejecting them, fighting their flavours like a disease. You hate the bitterness of an espresso. A sip of 16 year old Islay hurts, burns, suffocates.
Across a lonely bar sits a figure, silhouetted by a dim swinging lightbulb that reveals little more than his waxen skin and his drink: a black IPA. In a break from the dancing shadows, the glass stands tall. It’s alluring. You know it shouldn’t be, it is fiercely dark and as bitter as your most ferocious enemy. But you want it, or at least want to like it. It’d be cool to like it. And there’s no reason you shouldn’t.
But first you need to ready yourself for a journey. A climb. Look back to all the things you used to despise.
When you first tried to read Shakespeare, probably at school when you were, at times, distant and uninterested, you probably didn’t like it. You didn’t get it. Few do, it’s hard. But when you begin to understand it, its value becomes obvious. Liking it becomes effortless because its greatness speaks to you without you needing to do anything. The same can be said about The Wire, the HBO show that everyone gave up on midway through the first episode that turned out to be a profound part of its viewers’ lives. Learning about your taste, like learning about everything it is to be you, is hard at first. In life you push on because you have to to survive. With taste you push for your own delight.
Acquiring taste is earning that delight through discovery. Discovery that rewards you at every turn. The moment of understanding when a taste ‘clicks’ is akin to a revelatory plot twist. It is — at risk of hyperbolising — another level of consciousness. Realisation. I get it now. But you’ve worked for it. You’ve pushed through pain, like lifting weights, or climbing a mountain but the result is even more fulfilling because taste lasts a lifetime. And you’ve done it just for you. No-one else. It’s yours.
After all that hard work you finally arrive in a metropolis of new experiences and your journey is over. At least for now. There will always be space to build.
Saying you have acquired a taste sounds inherently pretentious, and in many ways it is, but while doing so can be a testament to your discernment — your style, your unapologetic, elegant self-indulgence — having not is just as admirable. Your contentment is enviable, like your confident cynicism. Or it could just be your genetics.
But everyone should try because the experience is priceless. All pleasures are earned: taste is like love, luxury and time.
There is a skill in distinguishing between what is genuine enjoyment and what is a subconscious desire to conform. You learn this skill by being critical about taste and then use it throughout your life. Find out what about you is genuine? What about you is status?
Indeed it is not just tangible things that are acquirable. People need time to be liked and skills are earned; no-one is born an artist. Life is an acquired taste. Everything you don’t have can be earned like a love of whisky. By pushing through. So if you want something for yourself, go get it, but never assume it will be easy.
When you delicately balance a flake of sea urchin between your chopsticks, you balance who you are with who you want to be. Concentrate, don’t drop it; that would be a waste.
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