Anjali Bhimani is an award-winning actor whose career spans across stage and screen from Broadway to feature films, television, video games, animation, and original online content. She recently released her first book, the bestseller I Am Fun Size, and So Are YOU!: Thoughts from a Tiny Human on Living a Giant Life, a spin–off from her YouTube series of the same name. Anjali portrayed the vibrant “IlluminAuntie,” Auntie Ruby, in the Disney+ series Ms. Marvel and recently had recurring roles in the final season of Dead to Me on Netflix and on Season 2 of Netflix’s Emmy-nominated comedy series Special. Her recent credits also include The Blacklist, Law and Order: SVU and 911: Lonestar. She has been a comedic fan favorite as Nina Patel in Modern Family and Joya in Alex, Inc., and has also appeared in such well-known shows as NCIS: LA, Blindspot, Marvel’s Runaways, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and more. Anjali was an original cast member of the Tony-nominated Metamorphoses on Broadway, which won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play, and is well known all over the world to audiences for playing Symmetra in Overwatch and Overwatch 2, Rampart in Apex Legends, Kala in Indivisible, and many more. (Photo by Matthew Kenneth.)
The following is taken from I Am Fun Size, and So Are You! Thoughts from a Tiny Human on Living a Giant Life, the bestselling book by award-winning actress Anjali Bhimani, based on her YouTube series of the same name, in which Anjali shares helpful insights and stories from her life as well as interviews other well-known performers to share experiences and personal lessons from their own journeys. The excerpt below is reprinted here by permission of the author; all rights are reserved. – N.D.
“Make an empty space in any corner of your mind, and creativity will fill in.” – Dee Hock
It was my senior year of college. I was in acting class with my acting teacher Mary Poole and the question was something to the effect of, “What do you think you could most improve on as an actor?” Everyone was coming up with brilliant, incisive answers, and I felt the pressure mounting as it came closer and closer to my turn. I was terrified because for the life of me I couldn’t focus on the question. I was thinking of so many different things at once: the next class, the rehearsal I had after class, the homework I had to do for this class, the date I was supposed to go on after rehearsal, all the things I had to do…
I took a deep breath, and then, pure honesty.
“I honestly have no idea right now because my brain is so full I can’t even see straight.”
Forget about insight, talent, creativity, inspiration. There was no room in my hard drive to process the data that was already there. It was like there was a spinning circle of death (Mac users, you know the one) and the error message, “Your disk is full. You must delete files before continuing.” (Little did I know that was the perfect answer because right there was the number one block in my acting work and creativity in general.)
I wish I could say that was the turning point for me, that I somehow had an aha moment right then and there at the young age of 21. But no, this is a situation I’ve found myself in time and time again. Overfilled, but not in that beautiful “my cup runneth over” way, more in that “spinning circle of death” way.
Months later, the movie Contact came out and my boyfriend, Gregg, and I went to see it. I’ll skip over all the beautiful things I loved about that movie (man, I need to go back and watch it again) and head right to the part that had me saying, OK, Universe, I’m hearing this. It was Jodie Foster’s monologue at the end during her final hearing. I have no idea what she said. It wasn’t about the words. Something about her delivery — about her — struck me in the heart. It felt like she was a vessel, letting something greater than herself run through her. I had the mental image of water flowing from the Universe through her and out to us.
I tried to explain it to Gregg afterwards but eventually told him I needed to go home and process before I could even talk about the movie. I’d had this somewhat spiritual experience, but it wasn’t even about the movie. It was about the importance of making space inside me to allow inspiration to flow through. To free up memory and disk space on my hard drive. To make the space to think. To create. To feel. To be.
In recent years, as the world has become more and more complicated, I’m realizing how imperative it is that we protect the space inside us and leave a little bit of it free to dream and process the input we get from the outside world. Not just the obvious input like things we may be studying, but all the conversations, sounds, sights, feelings, sensations, music, you name it. Even without our gadgets, without company, the world today is so full of noise, it is up to us to make the space to think and create and feel and be.
It is vital that we build some space into our world — solitude, quiet, without books, without gadgets, without TV, without conversation — to let our magical, magnificent brains process all they take in. Create some space in your schedule for simply thinking and being. And don’t make the sneaky mistake (that I absolutely have done) of turning it into a productivity exercise. Just let it be processing time.
We understand that our computers need this, so if you have to imagine yourself as a computer, do it. Turn on your own personal disk repair app in your head. (I find hiking to be a magnificent way to do this.) Do something physical where your body is working but not so hard that you need to focus on what it’s doing. Long distance drives are great for this, too, provided you aren’t texting — insert judgmental auntie face staring at you if you are — or listening to the radio or podcasts at the same time. Throw the phone in your bag or the back seat if that’s what it takes to create some space on your long drive. And see what comes up in your mind.
It is vital we build some space into our world — solitude and quiet, without books, gadgets, TV, or conversation — to let our magical, magnificent brains process all they take in.
One way to do this at home (although, warning, it often looks to others like you’re doing “nothing,” and they’ll want to interrupt you, so try to do this in private!) is to get some paper and pencil or pen. (Don’t use your phone notes; go old school with me.) Stare into space for a moment. If you can, find a blank wall so there is really no input coming at you through your field of vision. With your eyes open, breathe. If thoughts of to-dos and discomfort and wanting to grab your phone or your laptop start to jump in, take another breath and guide your focus back to the blank space. Focus on the feeling of your breath, just breathing in and out however is comfortable to you. If you have to, write down any urgent matters that pop into your head.
After about two minutes of staring at this wall or soft focus into space, see what pops into your head that isn’t go, go, go. Are there questions that come up? Write them down. Ideas? Inspirations? Write those down. Maybe ask the Universe for a little help. Ask yourself, “Is there anything deeply on my mind today?” See if anything outside of your normal set of thoughts comes up. I find resetting like this throughout my day can give me space in an otherwise overwhelming day.
Also, there are some wonderful books on the importance of focus and creating space in your life. One of my favorites in recent years is a book I already mentioned: Essentialism by Greg McKeown. Also check out Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World and Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport. And for a quick and very personal read on the topic, check out my friend Samantha Joy’s book, The Less Effect: Design Your Life for Happiness & Purpose.
Featured image of Anjali Bhimani by Matthew Kenneth; all images courtesy Anjali Bhimani.