Actress Kiersten Warren Traces the Roots of Her Anxiety
"For all you anxiety suffering artists whose roots are tripping you up, causing you to stumble. You can cut them back."
February 7, 2020
Roots tether us to our beginnings. To our source. Who we are and where we come from. But what happens when the calamitous power of our roots take over and disastrous consequence is the result? Case in point, the gorgeous tree in our front yard whose roots recently thought it was a good idea to annihilate our plumbing and send fetid water through our newly renovated house.
Roots can crumble sidewalks because not even cement can withstand the pressure of what’s insisting on existing underneath.
That which can be contained no longer.
I have new and precious insight into my roots of anxiety and how they’ve dictated who I am and how I go about being the artist person I am in my daily auditioning actress existence.
I was sitting across from my doctor recently, just getting a referral for a colonoscopy because I’m that many years old and he was getting a brief medical rundown. I told him I was basically healthy, blah, blah, blah and then threw in that I did suffer from fainting spells as a kid.
He stopped writing and looked up with these dark and super sympathetic eyes. For a second, I noticed that he was probably Pakistani or at least reminded me of someone that Princess Diana would have been involved with, but that’s neither here nor there, He said very gently, “Would I be right in guessing that you had a very stressful childhood?”
And because I’m dramatic and an actress I did not burst into tears, that would come later in the car ride home, but rather stayed completely still and answered matter of factly, “that would be correct.” Then I smiled. Cuz I’m an actress.
I had been thinking about an audition in the not too distant past when I was called in to both read and sing for “Zoe’s Extraordinary Playlist.” I was asked to prepare a song of my choice in addition to a song of their choosing. My heart started to pound in my ears and I thought I might faint, for the first time in a decade times four.
Here Gentle Reader, is why:
Without question it was the suicide of Freddie Prinze in January of 1977 that stole my solo singing voice from me. I was 11 and up until then quite content to rival my father for the title of “Biggest Showoff Belter” in the family. We were Baptist missionaries to Hawaii. If God has to call you anywhere, let it be Hawaii. It sucketh not.
When we weren’t serving in the mission field, running the church of 200 in Kaneohe, Hawaii, we were visiting all our supporting churches, constituents with check books if you will, on the mainland and giving them updates on our ministry by way of slide shows, Hawaiian songs and stories. Perfectly charming set against our thick Texas accents.
So here we were, traveling from one meeting to the next in our Dodge Rambler, when this impossibly grievous news hit the talk radio airwaves. There was no escaping it really as secular music was not an option in our family.
So here it was that I realized two things at the age of 11. One, that life has a very real beginning, middle and end. And then two, that I had been hopelessly in love with Freddie Prinze. When exactly that happened I didn’t even know.
I was looking out the window at the gray Tennessee landscape with its signs on every barn extolling us to “SEE ROCK CITY” when my mom sighed, “What’s sad is that he’s probably in hell.”
Sitting in the back seat, I’m quite sure a cartoon anvil fell on my head. I knew better than to plead his case or defend his honor. There wasn’t much wiggle room with Fundamentalist Baptists. Like an eel surging in my throat I thought I’d be sick. But it could have been car sickness and the afternoon sun. So I didn’t really know what was happening.
It was about here in my life’s story where a cold clutch clawed up from my grieving heart and came to live in my throat. Not invited. More like invaded.
Cut to: The next church and the next platform that the Singing Warren Family took to and if I was able to make it through one song without sobbing I was lucky. My eyes would pool and threaten dripping drops of truth at the same time my throat would say, “This is bull crap, we’re outta here.”
But we had like nine songs left in the set to get through. And it was here where I suffered in the tension of that disparity.
Did I tell you I had solos? Because I did.
My mom would play the intro after I missed my first cue, again, but in the higher treble keys making it a softer place for me to fall. Still no me. Here she came again with my intro. This time with an encouraging pursed lip smile from behind the piano but with eyes that looked positively flummoxed.
My sister Heidi, just a few years older than me but a straight up professional older sibling, forgot herself for a moment and the fact that the microphone was mere inches from her mouth barked, “Knock it off.” Which of course everyone heard and were now clued into our little drama.
Congregants craned their necks to get a look at this visiting little missionary girl dying on stage with a Cindy Brady (remember the game show episode?) stroke going on in her eyes.
What would the girl in the orange muumuu do? Okay, I managed to get through but choked up, near tears the way that always renders it highly uncomfortable for the audience.
I remembered this woman from our church would always sing that way. Like you were watching a musical nervous breakdown take place. I always noticed how awkward it was and now to be guilty by association with this lady left me humbled, crumbled, hopeless, undone.
Humiliated, I would run to the bathroom and only after checking all the stalls and making completely sure I was alone, I would have myself a gulping sob session. When I was completely cried out I’d then talk myself down out of this emotional tree with, interestingly enough, a song. Elvis had a version. “Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine, we’ll understand it all by and by.” Because I didn’t at that time understand what was happening to me. Then as a mantra prayer I would add, “Please don’t be in hell, please don’t be in hell, please don’t be in hell.”
From there the service was usually over and I would smile and sign our family album and people’s Bible’s like a pop star. “1 Peter 5:7 God bless.” Then my name was what I always wrote. Then when the box of records was empty and my dad had received the white envelope with our “love gift” in it, we’d button the winter coat over Aloha wear and head out to the nearest Denny’s or McDonalds or whatever shined brightest off the freeway.
Here, before eating, my dad would pray a little too loudly and a little too long for my sister and I to get too comfortable. Inevitably there was always an embarrassed waitress not knowing what to do with her arm full of dinners while this devout family thanked their God for dinner.
It has to be said that had my Father not grown up in an Iowan farming community but in a big city, dollars to donuts, he’d have been one of the great tenors to take a turn on an operatic stage and command everyone’s awe.
But back to our sad story. What was to be done with this daughter who’d lost her song? It was very “Little Mermaid” of me thinking back on it.
My affliction afflicted, and affected me for months. I have no idea how I made it through. Or how many tween tears I shed. No idea of the exact date I stopped mourning my Prinze. All I know is that it set into motion the notion of saving just one big eyed, beautiful Latin man. And for him I would be up to task of singing hymns all the freaking time. And I do.
So I want to thank my anxiety for the amazing audition I had for “Zoe’s Extraordinary Playlist.” Because I sang a song, people, I did, I did! Fievel’s, “Somewhere Out There.” Interestingly enough it was my husband, Kirk Acevedo’s curious choice of song. Because who even knew that my Puerto Rican pound puppy from the South Bronx knew that a singing Fievel ever existed. But I digress.
Did I get the job? No. Did I drink exactly one Mike’s Hard Lemonade before leaving. Yeah I did. But I performed my audition along with the help of my anxiety’s inspiration. Letting it pull my marionette strings all the way, I felt as I sang. And I revised the dripping drops of truth trick from my earlier singing years. And I was amazing. Auditions are binary. You get them or you do not. But they did not in the end see me as someone suffering from some affliction that kept me bound to my apartment for years is all ok.
But that I did exactly what I wanted to do was my takeaway win. That it was rendered artistically excellent in my opinion was all thanks to the flavor my anxiety added. I truly smiled for the rest of the week.
Because time is an amazing healing agent. Gaping wounds seemingly mend themselves til there’s little more than a pink stretchy scar to validate a dinnertime story. But whoever said “time heals all.” Well you, and I, and even that lamppost over there knows that’s just folly.
So for all you anxiety suffering artists whose roots are tripping you up or causing you to stumble. You can cut them back, you know? You can work around their gnarled grabbing reach. Avoiding their chaos and enjoying the shade of their resulting beautiful tree. All in the same yard.
See? By and by. You do understand.
And when that choke in your throat finally softens into a story, that’s when you’ll want to swallow it for safe keeping. To store forever the sweet thumping chambers of your heart. So as to visit with again and again. Whenever tender needs remembering.
Or someone asks you to sing.
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