I finally figured out what it was on Monday evening, as I was lodged on my static-inducing, hair catching, lime green couch (provided by le landlord, since in China, many apartments come fully furnished, usually with odd pieces that were mostly likely the love children of Bai Ling and Kimora Lee Simmons - love you girl, but some of that Baby Phat's got to go). Anyway - what I figured out was that my little, hot, coin-sized, mental itch was yelling for me to do something different. So that’s what I decided to do, a do-different.
That evening after I made dinner, instead of inviting my usual dining mates, Movie or Internet, I strolled to the ugly lime monster, situated myself in the middle of its spongy cheeks, and ate in silence. Well, silence was relative, since the Chinese New Year fireworks brigade was stilling running rampant across the city, throwing explosives into the air every hundred feet. But I sat there, quietly chewing, and listened to the symphony of pyrotechnics, letting the echo of each whistle and roar settle serenely into my bowl of ground beef and onions. Upon savoring every bite, I learned this. Paying full and glorious attention to your food fills you up sooner. From the tiny spicy spouts on my tongue, I could tell that I had put in too much diced onion, and that the white, long-stemmed mushrooms made the beef slippery in consistency, and that for the first time in my short and unsuccessful amateur cooking career (i.e. client=myself), the beef was finally not over-done, and that maybe a little mustard would be good between the slices of cheese I had melted in the whole wheat tortilla.
Sure, eating in silence might be something normal to most people. In fact, it was normal at one point in my life, when I still lived at home, and all meals were at the table. But not once, in my independent, live-in-my-own-apartment, 20-something life away from home, have I ever eaten in silence. There are just too many distractions. And so my do-different quota was filled that night and the urge fell asleep. Until the next day.
Tuesday evening. I got curious and pulled out one of the frozen fish the Office had graciously bestowed upon me (Chinese New Year gift), cut open the bag, placed the fish on a pan, put a chunk of butter on top and stuck the whole thing in my toaster oven. 20 minutes later, I could hear a sizzling sound. When I pulled my dinner out, it didn’t look too bad, smelled good and seemed ready. Maybe cooking isn’t so hard after all, or so I thought:
The first few bites were pretty good, although Mr. Fish did seem a bit scaly. Hmm, as I got deeper, the insides didn't seem fully cooked, but hey, sushi's raw, so it couldn't be that bad for me. Right? But wait – what is this bulbous thing in the middle, right near the stomach area? Ew, is that the stomach? I dunno. Moving on. Mmm – this part is tasty. (Spit more scales out). Hey, this bulbous thing is getting to be pretty obtrusive. I sliced the thing open – it WAS the stomach, guts and all.
“Haha,” Bryant later laughed at me over Skype. “You’re supposed to clean the fish first.”
“How am I supposed to clean a frozen fish?”
“You thaw it out, dummy. In salt water.”
“Nope – they just catch ‘em and freeze ‘em.”
Grr. Ew. Gross. I’m never doing that again.
But in honor of my new do-different attitude, the next night I decided to tackle the two remaining fish the right way. After all, what’s trite about scaling and gutting a fish? Nothing, that’s what.
The next hour was filled with activities even more horrifying than discovering the stomach of a cooked fish. Mind you, I say horrifying because I am the type of person who gets itchy just thinking about bugs. The sight of anything with more than four legs will make me bolt; and worms, slugs, snails and intestines definitely make me throw up in my mouth. It’s just who I am. Anyway, I digress.
There is a good reason everyone who scales fish on TV is in full protective gear: apron, boots, rubber gloves, a rain hat and definitely a hefty pair of goggles. Those bastard sequins of nature got everywhere. Crevices I didn’t even know existed made friends with each little shit piece of confetti of the sea. And, god – I know I’m Chinese, but I am not eating that fish head. It’s one thing to be served a full, beautiful fish; it's quite another to have to prepare that fish. So, off with the head. Oh, but wait – the giant butcher knife I’m using isn’t sharp enough. Ok. What to do. I got it – get the scissors out. I’m not sure this is entirely correct form, but cutting and chopping are both methods of decapitating, right? Okay, head off. Purple guts are spilling out. Agh. Gag. Breathe. Hee, hoo. Hee, hoo. Now what? Right: filet it. Fish filet. Filet o’ fish. Jenny filets fish. How do I do that? Well, I’m not risking maulling my hand with the dull butcher knife, so scissors it is, again. Snip. Snip. Snip through the underbelly of Mr. Fishy, and right into the intestines. AHHHH. Ew. Ew. Ew. Nothing like fingers swathed in unfolding strands of black red goo. This fish better taste amazing. Okay – stomach and guts are out. Now for the fins. Cut that one off the side. And that one over there. Oh, and there’s another cute wittle one on the back. Crunch. Crunch. Horror. Did I just cut through the backbone? I notice the fish still looks like a fish in my hands, not like those succulent salmon steaks that sit proudly behind the counter at the grocery store. Getting seriously faint on the inside. Still cutting through the backbone. Must. Get. It. Off. Crrrrrrrunnnch. (I’m pretty sure no chef has ever done it this way. Skimming off the top of a backbone, horizontally, seems pretty inhumane to me) Done. Phew. Sigh.
I would be the worst surgeon ever.
Suffice it to say, none of my recent experiences related to fish have been all that pleasant, but at least I experienced them. And although I’m still picking scales out of my hair, and touching fish guts probably doesn’t even faze you, I feel alive for having done it.
So, what exactly defines different?
A do-different is a moment you reserve to:
1) take an action that has yet to make it on your portfolio of life experiences, or
2) do something not present in your daily life
With just these two rules, the options are endless. And the beauty is, they don’t have to be giant gestures of passion or zeal. They can be as small and subtle as chewing quietly on a couch, or wearing a pot over your head while lip-sinking to Janis Joplin (have you ever done that?), or if you prefer, even streaking down the road in nothing but your dignity and a pair of sturdy shoes. Whatever your do-differents are, as long as you keep at them, they will add up. One day, looking back, you will realize just how satisfying your time on this earth has been. They might have even saved your life.
On another note, do-differents are also particularly good for people my age. As 20-somethings, we are riding the line of adulthood, determined to transition without losing our youth. We try to play the mature card, which means waiting patiently for our successes to compile and reward us, and yet it seems Time can’t pass fast enough between our actions and the results we crave. The do-different world is the loophole for instant gratification, a sacred space where we can create experiences entirely unusual to our usual. And for those of us who can’t commit to weeks worth of a task, the do-different is just enough to get us to the next baby step. It doesn’t overwhelm; it just changes your life, and can in quite a significant way.
Standing in front of my kitchen window, open so as to waft away the looped visual in my mind of guts spurting out a fish’s neck, and trying to figure out what my do-different for Thursday would be, I peered through the screen; just below the window was a ledge holding an air conditioner of some sort - I almost climbed out on it. No folks, I did not end up squeezing myself through the two by four frame (I figured “different” shouldn’t equate to death on a rusty ledge), but the point is that I felt brave enough to do it. I had sanctioned out one moment of each day, where I was allowed to act on something entirely foreign to my daily routine, and having that moment made me feel alive and invincible.
Perhaps my do-differents may not be as exciting to other people as they are to me, but they don’t have to be – because they are just for me, an exercise to push myself outside my own box every day. Can you imagine if you did a do-different, even just once a week, for the rest of your life, how much more fun you would have? It's an exciting thought, figuring out something that seems so obvious, but really isn't: I create my experiences, my breaths of fresh air, my do-differents and my life. And so can you.