When I was 25 and working on my first Broadway play, Some Americans Abroad, my friend Bill gave me this book with the inscription: 'Descend into yourself. Search for the reason.' I was searching for my own reasons for being an actress and wanted to see myself as an artist, but it all seemed a little pretentious. This book helped me see that making art is about the search; the questions, not the answers. The book is also a tribute to generosity among artists. Rilke never talks down to the young poet. He inspires him to search inwardly and find himself through his poetry. Since I'd struggled with a fear of being alone, this book helped me to see solitude as invaluable if I was to express myself. I also just love this quote: 'Be considerate of aging people, who fear that being-alone in which you trust.'
The Artist's Way By Julia Cameron
Almost six years ago, before I was given the incredible opportunity to be in Leaving Las Vegas, I was going through a long period of artistic confusion. I'd spent years doing work that hadn't pushed me enough, and I was beginning to wonder if I had any talent. This book helped me recall why I loved being an actress and why I had to continue. I'd become disconnected from the childlike play that art could be. I was spending so much time fearing I wasn't good enough that I lost the sense that my artistic expression was worthy. This book is a wonderful step-by-step way to reclaim your youthful love of creating and your faith in yourself. One of the most important ideas it gave me was something called morning pages—daily stream-of-consciousness writing that allows you to purge your demons, fears, frustrations, anger, or ordinary blather, to clear your head and allow your heart and instinct to connect with your higher creative self. This book helps you remember.
For Whom the Bell Tolls By Ernest Hemingway
At Wellesley, I was still intimidated by "important" books written by "important" writers. Once I went up to our little house in Maine to get away and be alone for a few days. I of course became lonely and decided to read a book. I went to the store and chose this one. I read and read and couldn't stop, finishing it in one day. It's written in a beautifully poetic but direct and simple way that I could instantly take in. Even though the story is about the Spanish Civil War, it's really about a man's courage to follow through with his mission and a woman's love giving him the strength to fight on. I remember feeling tense and afraid all day, as if I was in the mountains with the main character. After reading it, I no longer felt as intimidated by literature, and I appreciated the way the solitary act of reading could transport me to another world. I finally understood the companionship that books give.
Robert Kennedy and His Times By Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.
I was working on the television series Call to Glory, about an Air Force family in the 1960s. I'd left Wellesley, and was glad the show prompted me to educate myself about that tumultuous period in our history. Robert Kennedy was such an inspiring figure. His interest in politics seemed to come not from a desire for power, but from a need to help our society live up to its ideals. He had always felt left out of his family's inner circle, and his feelings of insecurity drove him to connect with others who felt the same way. It was after reading this book that I decided to go back and continue my education. I felt I needed to know more about the world if I was ever going to try and follow his example.
Printed from Oprah.com on Wednesday, December 11, 2013