Faces Of NPR showcases the people behind NPR–from the voices you hear every day on the radio to the ones who work outside of the recording studio. You’ll find out about what they do and what they’re inspired by on the daily. Today we feature Marielle Segarra, Host of Life Kit.
The Basics:
Name: Marielle Segarra
Title: Host, Life Kit
Twitter Handle: @MarielleSegarra
Where you’re from: Levittown, NY
Marielle Segarra, photographed for NPR, 9 September 2022, in New York, NY. Photo by Brandon Watson for NPR. Brandon Watson/Brandon Watson hide caption
Marielle Segarra, photographed for NPR, 9 September 2022, in New York, NY. Photo by Brandon Watson for NPR.
What was the podcast that got you into podcasting?
Going way back, it was probably This American Life, the original. They still do such an amazing job at storytelling. More recently I got really into conversation podcasts, especially stuff like Armchair Expert. I really like that one. Have you ever heard it? It’s Dax Shepard and Monica Padman. Sometimes Kristen Bell is on the show, too. They do a lot of interviews with well-known people, but it’s also just focused on psychology and our inner emotional worlds, and I find that stuff fascinating. I think that’s what I lean more towards these days, anything that talks about our emotions, how to live a happier life, podcasts that focus on spirituality or meditation, that kind of thing. I always really liked On Being. I found a lot of solace there.
How is your transition from Marketplace to NPR?
It’s been good. I’ve been able to use my economics and finance background in episodes for Life Kit. Like we did one about investing, what to do with your investments and your retirement account, because the markets have been down for a year. And we did another answering listener questions about inflation. That kind of stuff I find is really useful. I’ve said this before, but it’s kind of like I have the keys to a locked door. I have an ability to explain these things. And economics is not necessarily my great love, but what I do love is using my economics knowledge to help people navigate their lives.
Big picture, I’m really happy to be on the Life Kit team. Everyone is super talented. Meghan Keane runs the show, and I can see what an incredible boss she is to the producers. And she also cares a lot about work-life balance, as do I, and about the culture of the show, as does my boss, Beth Donovan. That has to start at the top: respecting people’s time off, respecting that we are full humans and work isn’t always going to be, or shouldn’t be, our top priority in life and that work is one part of living a fulfilled life, but it’s not everything.
I will say – there are always transitions when you’re in a new job. I did an episode about my first week of the job, as a way to sort of introduce myself to the audience. And there’s always stuff that you just don’t know. Like, okay, so I get my recording kit from this department, but I get my laptop from this department. Even having the confidence that you know how to do the job. All of that builds in time as you learn more of the particulars, and as you jump into doing stuff that you know how to do. Like for me, that’s being in the studio. I also had to learn how to use Outlook effectively, because I didn’t really use it that much at Marketplace. I was a reporter for the most part, and when I was reporting, I just needed to tell my boss, my editor, what I was up to. But now there are so many people involved in these meetings and people who put things on my calendar that I had to learn to block out lunch. If I didn’t block out lunch, then people wouldn’t know that I was busy during that time. The first week I found myself not eating, and I was like, okay, I have to learn how to work within Outlook.
I’m glad you’re setting those work boundaries, because that is necessary. What are you looking forward to bringing to Life Kit?
Well, I’m really excited about some of the episodes we’ve been working on. One came out in early November about honoring and connecting with your ancestors. And that’s something that I pitched when I was in the interview process. I just mentioned it casually to Beth Donovan when we were on an initial call, when she asked about who I am as a person and what I’m into. And I was like, “Well, I have this ancestral altar I’ve been getting really into, and I like learning about my ancestry.” And the interviews for this episode have just been so meaningful and so personal. I’m really excited for that episode to come out, and to do more work around the cross-section of spirituality and mental health. I think in an episode like that, you can certainly come at your ancestors or come at connecting with your ancestors from a spiritual lens. And I personally do. But a lot of people also would find meaning in learning about their ancestors, even if it’s from a more practical, you know, “on this earth” lens. Like, how is generational trauma passed down? What behavioral patterns did I learn from my mom, who learned them from her mom, who learned them from her mom? What big trauma happened in history that my family was a part of? And how did that affect me, possibly even down to the way my DNA is expressed? So all of that matters and can help you work through whatever you’re dealing with in your life. I love episodes like that.
I’m curious to know if you’re tapping into different communities for the ancestors episode, because I know in specific communities, like the Black community for example, we really value the connection to our ancestors.
What’s so interesting and challenging for this episode is, there are so many ways of connecting with our ancestors across cultures. You know, we have four main sources in the episode. We talk to an Indigenous couple, we talk to a therapist who is African American and Indigenous, and we talk to a genealogist who specializes in African American ancestry. We also gathered voice memos from a bunch of different listeners who come from different backgrounds about their experiences. But it’s a huge, huge tradition in Asian cultures, like in Chinese culture, for instance, or in Mexican culture, with the ofrenda, or, I’m Puerto Rican and it’s a tradition in my culture as well. There are so many examples, and I want everyone to feel represented in this one episode.
One thing we touch on in the episode: it’s harder for people of some backgrounds to find information on their ancestors. You hit a wall because you can’t get the records, whether it’s because of slavery or because of bad record keeping or because of colonialism and assimilation. Like, being Puerto Rican, it’s been hard for me to find certain information. Six or seven of my aunts and uncles died in childbirth or infancy in Puerto Rico, and we only learned their names in recent years. We found their death certificates and what they died from. But I went to Puerto Rico to try to find their graves and I couldn’t. I know that we’ve lived in Mayagüez for at least a hundred years, and I went there with my family, but the cemetery didn’t have the records. They had basically a couple of books, and the records only went back to 1950. And the people who worked there were like, “Okay, go to this other place and try to get the digital records.” But they didn’t exist, basically. So I just found myself at the gates of the old cemetery in Mayagüez saying a very general prayer, like “I know you’re here somewhere in this, and I’m going to say your names and I’m sorry that I couldn’t go further with it.”
What is the best piece of advice that you’ve received? What is a piece of advice that has stuck with you?
I don’t know if it’s one person who said this, but a lot of it is about trusting myself. That is what I’ve been learning over the past couple of years, to stop second-guessing myself and to trust my intuition. When we talk about this on Life Kit, it’s about listening to what your body is telling you, all those little signals that you get every day, whether it’s pain or whether it’s pleasure, whether it’s a sinking feeling in your gut or whatever. And listening to how you feel after you spend time with particular people. Do you feel elevated? Do you feel drained? And then trusting your own judgment about that, and trusting that if you made a decision, it was probably a smart one. I used to think something through and feel something through, and I’d be like, “This is not a good situation for me.” And then a little while later, I would be like, “I don’t know, maybe I overreacted. Or maybe I’m wrong about that. Or maybe I misunderstood.” And then you do the thing again and you learn the lesson again and you’re like, “No, no, no. I got it right the first time.” And I’ve tried to do some things to build my intuition or build my trust in myself. Like rock climbing. I really like rock climbing. You’re trying to see which foothold will hold your weight. And luckily, you usually have a rope on you, unless you’re bouldering. But you have to trust yourself.
What do you think your overall goal as a host on Life Kit is? What do you want people to walk away with after listening to an episode?
I want them to feel like they have the tools and information to live a peaceful and at-ease life. We can’t always give people peace. I mean, the world is chaos. But if you at least feel like some of these things have been researched for you and you can trust the people who you’re learning from, it just makes taking that next step much easier. In the interview process, I talked a lot about the episode Life Kit did about egg freezing, because it’s such a perfect example of something that can feel really overwhelming if you’re at an age where you’re considering it and you’re like, “I just don’t know,” you’re researching online, you’re talking to your doctor. But Life Kit laid out the steps really clearly of what it involves, and whether it’s covered by insurance or not — it’s generally not — and what it might cost, what kind of toll it could take on your body, what kind of doctor you’d want to reach out to. I just thought that was a classic example of service journalism, taking something that could be on your to-do list for literally a year, because you’re like, “I just can’t deal with this today.” Because it’s wrapped up in so much else, too. It’s wrapped up in your fear that when you want to have a kid, you won’t be able to. It’s wrapped up in feeling like, why have I waited this long, or why didn’t this happen earlier? Like all of this stuff — fear, shame, anxiety, whatever — that prevents you from doing the research yourself. So I love the idea of providing that as a service to people.
I’d love to hear, what topics or guests do you want to talk to on Life Kit?
I was just talking to Emily Kwong from Short Wave. We did a collaboration with them already about hydration, but we would really love to do something about allergies. Or sometimes there are really oddball things that I’m like, this could be kind of fun. When I was on vacation, I went snorkeling and we stopped at this little island, and the guy I was snorkeling with, he grew up around there, was showing me how if you get a wound and you scrape off the outside of the coconut, you can pack it into your wound to basically clot it up. It’s a natural Band-Aid. And then he was saying, if you cut open the coconut, you can eat the sponge. Like it has water in it, but it also has these other nutrients in it. And he just showed me the different things on the island that he would use to survive if he were stranded there. And I was like, “Okay, how would you cut open the coconut if you didn’t have that knife?” And he smashed it against the tree trunk and showed me. And then he was saying, “If you put this little hermit crab in it, it’ll eat out the inside. And then you can keep it as a pot.” It was next level. So I was like, we should do an episode on survival, some really practical survival skills. That one would just be kind of fun. We did an episode with Bear Grylls, but that was a little higher level and talking more about the mentality behind it. But I think that something like that could be super fun. We definitely will be doing more of the financial stuff. Also a lot of holiday-themed things about how to give gifts without spending a lot of money, that kind of thing. Kind of leaning away from the hyper-consumerism and into the meaning part of it.
Edited by: Kelsey Page
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