Making The Most of The Time We Have

Join author, educator, and learner, Annmarie Kelly as she laughs, cries, and kvetches with the writers, musicians, entrepreneurs, and wanderers who inspire all of us to reach beyond our divisions and discover what it means to be wild, precious, and brave.

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The Last Day Of My First Life, with Katherine Standefer

The Last Day Of My First Life, with Katherine Standefer

When Katherine Standefer woke up in a parking lot with gravel in her forehead, she knew her life would never be the same. The incomparable author of Lightning Flowers takes us on a medical and spiritual journey as she discovers how to navigate life with a defibrillator in her chest. Annmarie and Katherine discuss their difficult experiences with the healthcare system, Katherine's global journey to investigate the minerals in her medical device, and the true costs of what it means to save a life. Katherine’s story is truly remarkable.


Katherine's favorite book is THE LAKE, by Daniel Villaseñor. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/books/332561/the-lake-by-daniel-villasenor/9781101191613

One of Katherine's best teachers is Zhenevere Sophia Dao. You can learn more about her teaching at the MogaDao Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
https://www.mogadaoinstitute.com/zhenevere-bio

If you want to learn more about Katherine Standefer's writing and teaching, please visit her website: http://www.katherinestandefer.com/

You can follow Katherine Standefer on Instagram AKA Chickengram here: https://www.instagram.com/girlmakesfire/

She's @girlmakesfire on Twitter and Katherine E. Standefer on Facebook.

Finally, if you need more Joy of Chickens in your life, here are some of Annmarie's favorite videos:

A somehow funny and beautiful "Pachelbel's Chicken" -- https://youtu.be/khOfSVULtsU

Chickens running to music -- https://youtu.be/jPyN3K1Up6c

Baby chick and a kitty -- https://youtu.be/7yLxxyzGiko

Annemarie Kelly:
Wild Precious Life is brought to you in part by Mac's Backs, a proud Cleveland indie bookstore with three floors for browsing, great online service, and chocolate milkshakes right next door. And by Ashland University, Low-Res MFA, where our accomplished faculty help you find your voice and complete your degree at your own pace.

Annemarie Kelly:
I am Annemarie Kelly. Welcome to Wild Precious Life, a podcast about dreaming big and making real connections. In each episode, I talk to prize winning writers, musicians, and entrepreneurs, who teach all of us how to make the most of the time we have. I first heard today's guest, Katherine Standefer, tell part of her story only a few weeks after my father passed away. I had been a caregiver during dad's journey with terminal brain cancer. I wanted to talk with Katherine in part, because I think sometimes our medical facilities get so hung up on treating the disease, that they forget to care for the patient.

Annemarie Kelly:
I've also been a primary caregiver for my daughter who was born needing four surgeries before she turned four-years-old. With both my dad and my daughter, we logged countless hours on examination tables in hospital waiting rooms and napping in plastic chairs beside pulse-ox machines and chemo drips. I sat with doctors who showed me photographs of the incisions they would make on my child's body and the cuts on my father's skull. And while I medically trusted the physician's expertise in those moments, there was seldom anyone in that room who asked how we were doing, how we were processing this information, or anyone who lingered for a moment to listen, really listen to the fear in our hearts about what was about to happen.

Annemarie Kelly:
I get it, for doctors, these procedures are routine, but there is no such thing as minor surgery when the patient is someone you love. So, whether you have been called upon to be a caregiver, or you yourself have been the victim of an illness, I hope you will find solace in today's conversation. Let's get started. My guest today is Katherine Standefer, writer, teacher, and trauma doula, whose debut book Lightning Flowers, was shortlisted for the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Prize from Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and the Nieman Foundation at Harvard. Katherine writes from a juniper-studded mesa in New Mexico, where she lives with her chickens. Katherine Standefer, welcome to Wild Precious Life.

Katherine Standefer:
Thank you so much for having me.

Annemarie Kelly:
I have to be honest, I was positively destroyed by your book. I was inspired, I was disappointed, I was enraged, I was enlightened. Once, I threw it across the room. Mostly though, I hugged it and I can honestly say I breathed different and I have continued to breathe different and listen, because I thought about the preciousness of the moment to moment functions in our body that we take for granted and the way in which our country and the medical industrial complex is messing all that up.

Annemarie Kelly:
So, I hope you have 27 hours or so, because I got some stuff I got to say and hear and understand, but actually I want to begin with a question that I pulled right from the pages of your book, right out of Lightning Flowers, a question that's asked of you by one of the only doctors I like in this book, shout out to Dr. Michael Ackerman of The Mayo Clinic, who I've never met, but am growing to love. Katherine, where does your heart story begin?

Katherine Standefer:
Wow. What an introduction. Thank you so much. My heart story begins in a parking lot in Jackson, Wyoming, the summer I was 24. I was in a bluegrass band that summer, and I had showed up to band practice and ran outside to take a phone call, and all of a sudden woke up with gravel in my forehead. I had gone into presumed cardiac arrest, what they call a syncope. And that was the warning shot that begins my part of Lightning Flowers. The story begins in some ways a year and a half earlier when my younger sister, Christine, began going into cardiac arrest in her dorm room at age 18.

Katherine Standefer:
And so, at the time I passed out in a parking lot at 24, my younger sister already knew that there was a genetic condition in the family called Long QT syndrome. And I was the family member who lived far away, was very busy teaching skiing and rock climbing and leading hiking trips. Some part of me knew that if anyone else had it, it would be me, and it was me. So, when I woke up in the parking lot, I was uninsured and trying to figure out how to live with what can be a fatal arrhythmia.

Annemarie Kelly:
When you talk about this moment in the book, what struck me right away was that I'm with you, you're face down in the parking lot and the people around you understandably say, "Katherine, we need to take you to the emergency room." And your answer at that moment was, "No." Why did you tell them no?

Katherine Standefer:
Yeah. So, in the not so distant past of 2009, when these events were taking place, the Affordable Care Act had not yet been passed in the United States and so, it was still legal for insurers to deny people care based on their "preexisting conditions," which means that by virtue of having passed out in a parking lot, if I sought care at that moment, honestly, I would then have a record with this condition, which meant no one was going to insure me anyway. And I knew immediately that the likely outcome of passing out in that parking lot would be the implantation of a cardiac defibrillator, which my younger sister already had in her body.

Katherine Standefer:
ICDs are essentially a battery and a capacitor hooked up to microelectronics, connected to the heart through a wire that is threaded down the veins. And so, the wire is listening to the heart and the micro electronics in the ICD are making decisions around whether or not there's a threat. And the ICD can discharge electricity to disrupt those potentially fatal arrhythmias and restart the heart. And so, I knew I might need an ICD when I woke up in that parking lot and I also knew that if I could no longer get insurance, because I had a pre-existing condition, the route to getting that ICD would be very complicated, if not impossible.

Annemarie Kelly:
Oh, that makes me so crazy. That makes me so crazy. I have been without healthcare, so both in moments of youthful hope, when I knew myself to be finishing a job in September and starting one in December, so I'd probably have insurance by January. So, I've been uninsured. I've paid for catastrophic plans in between jobs. The what if I get hit by a bus plan and you pay and you pay and you never use it. You don't get hit by ... It's a good thing. And I've also have had insurance. When my middle daughter was born, she was born, we were told on day one of her life that she was going to require multiple surgeries, including one, in a matter of months. I was someone who prior to that point, and as part of my job, had paid into an insurance plan, that was then rejected when we went to get her the care that she needed, from the doctor who performed the surgery on the teeny-tiny mouth, of the teeny-tiny baby.

Annemarie Kelly:
And we were told despite having paid into it, we couldn't use it there, you'd have to use it for a lesser expert, right? Someone who was less adept at doing the kind of surgery that might one-day-old daughter needed. And so, can we talk for a minute about whether you encountered similar situations with the healthcare in your life? Did you ever seek care from one doctor and get told, "No, we've got to go somewhere else because of insurance?"

Katherine Standefer:
Absolutely. So, one would think from the beginning of my story, that I would be the world's biggest Affordable Care Act champion. And I certainly believe firmly in its importance, but my experience with the Affordable Care Act in my own story is a lot more complicated. And part of that is because I lived in Pima County, Arizona at the time, and there was only one insurer on the healthcare marketplace as offered by the Affordable Care Act. The insurance companies that existed elsewhere had just opted out of that market, for whatever reason, they didn't think it was going to be profitable for them.

Katherine Standefer:
And so, I could get insurance, but I could only get this one insurance and that one insurance could only access particular doctors and particular hospitals within the area. And late in my story, I don't think it spoils too much to say briefly that I learned that the defibrillator wire inside me is cracked, and I attempt a procedure to remove that cracked wire, that does not go well. There are a lot of questions for me around whether that procedure would have gone differently, if I had been able to access the top hospital in my area, which was the Heart Care Magnet for Southern Arizona, that hospital was out of network.

Katherine Standefer:
There are a lot of healthcare conversations to have in the United States, but access and things like preexisting conditions, those are really the bare, bare, bare, bare minimum we can ask for. There are all of these other levels where people like you and your daughter end up able to connect with the professionals who are clearly the right people to offer care in that moment.

Annemarie Kelly:
I feel like you and I could sit down to what's either going to be a drinking game or bingo. I haven't decided it might be a combination of the two. It's going to have a little bit of a morbid quality, but we're going to play a round of healthcare bingo.

Katherine Standefer:
I'm game.

Annemarie Kelly:
And we're going to take a shot for whoever has called and called and called and called, to try to reach the person who could reach the person, who could reach the doctor you needed to see. Or who's ever received a bill from the hospital with your name on it, with the multiple thousands of dollars owed by you for a procedure you were assured was covered. I know we have plenty of listeners who are healthcare professionals and they are in the trenches every day, and I am grateful for their care, but my experience on the receiving end of what it was like to be a caregiver, not a patient like you're talking about, but a caregiver, was the constant dehumanization when you are at your most vulnerable. That parking lot, if I'm not mistaken was in Wyoming, but that is not where you received your first surgery, right?

Annemarie Kelly:
You had to go to Colorado to even be able to think about accessing that care. When it comes to making a decision like that, you hesitated for a while about taking this into your body. You're told that you have Long QT, a condition that you suspect has in fact, been the untimely end of an ancestor in your family down in Texas years ago. Right? And you know that you carry this, but you hesitated about receiving the treatment. And I'm wondering if you could take us through your hesitation, not just insurance-wise, but why else did you not want the device implanted in your body?

Katherine Standefer:
Something in me understood that a defibrillator was not going to be the answer to my problem, and that begs the question, well, what is the problem? I was 24 and worried that I was going to die at any moment. This arrhythmia did not occur because I was hiking some intense mountain. My cellphone had rung and set off the arrhythmia. My younger sister was going into sudden cardiac arrest because of her roommate's alarm clock going off. Long QT type two has to do with the startle response and so, there's a way in which anything can be dangerous, an ambulance passing, which is a good thing by any other circumstance. An ambulance passing could actually be what killed me. So, there was this way in which the whole world became dangerous and an ICD was the way I was being told we could make the world no longer dangerous.

Katherine Standefer:
So, I did have the defibrillator implanted. I did make the choice to move to Boulder and get the ICD, even though something in me was really uneasy about what it would mean to put that technology in my body and the way it would hook me into this healthcare system that did not have room for me at that point. And then, in my story, about six months later, I go septic and I almost die. And then, as I've already shared, later on there is this issue with the technology breaking and when we try to fix that technology, things only get worse.

Katherine Standefer:
And over and over and over, our culture's usual response, which is to fix, to find a technological fix, fails. And I am forced to look again at the fact that none of us get to opt out of death. That in some ways, it's cliche to talk about how you could die driving home from work at night, but you really could. And I think one of the things that the defibrillator really schooled me in, is that a defibrillator, it's just become one way I can't die. I can't die of sudden cardiac arrest, if everything goes as planned with the device, but there are still all of these other ways, including through problems with that same technology.

Katherine Standefer:
That is really unacceptable to us in this culture. We do not have a culture that teaches us how to respond to death's inevitability. It's not to muddy up the fact that doctors do save lives. There are moments that technological interventions are really important in extending the life of one particular human, but it is also to say that that is still a vulnerable act. I think something in me that hadn't fully grown up yet already understood that, but I couldn't articulate it until I had been through so many rounds of it.

Annemarie Kelly:
What I am amazed by is that amid all of this, amid the turns and U-turns in your treatment, that you found the presence of mind and the clarity to think about, on a most microcosmic level, where this thing that had been implanted inside of you came from. In your book, I traveled to Madagascar with you and South Africa and Rwanda, and despite the fact that all of us use, every single day, computers and cellphones and cars and mountain bikes that have these minerals, I had never thought about them or held my phone in that way, until I went into a mine with you. If you can tell us a little of what you learned, both above the ground and beneath the ground, in one or more of those mines?

Katherine Standefer:
Yeah. The process of trying to understand what it was that was inside my body, was a really long and interesting part of this journey. There are so many different mines on different parts of this planet, in different socio-political contexts. And the question of where do the minerals in my body, much less in my phone, come from? What is in my battery? What is in my capacitor? Where does the titanium can come from? One of the projects I visited in Madagascar was a nickel and cobalt mine in the high jungle. It was a mine that had very recently been carved out of an endemic ecosystem, endemic meaning, Madagascar is an island and so, a lot of its species there are available only there. It's the only place on the planet that those beings evolved. And even within Madagascar itself, these high rainforest jungles are only present in a particular part of the country.

Katherine Standefer:
And so, to take a swath of that jungle out to put in a mine requires a lot of work-arounds that are intended to give that ecosystem the ability to bounce back afterwards, in theory. And that after mining is over, maybe animals will come back from those areas into the areas that were mined. There was a biodiversity offset, a swath of similar jungle located further north on that same spine of mountains, and land there was set aside. Again, with the idea that if we conserve this part, that'll help make up for this other part being destroyed. But the truth was that people had been living in these forests for as long as there have been people on Madagascar and their entire cosmologies were built around living in relationship to these places, to these species, to these processes.

Katherine Standefer:
And so, a biodiversity offset can end up having the side effect of kicking out humans that were using that land. We think we can ethically mine by setting aside forest, but then by setting aside forest, we are displacing people out of their homes. So, I think what I saw was that you can design a corporate social responsibility plan that attempts to take into account all of these different levels of impact and you can still create a really traumatic situation for plants and human communities. The humans that I was talking about earlier in particular, by no longer being able to do the type of agriculture they were doing, but they literally didn't have another way to earn subsistence. Some of these people are living in villages that are many, many, many miles back down single track, dirt roads, where to grow crops to sell in town is almost impossible because your crops will rot on the way to town. There's not a way to get to a doctor.

Katherine Standefer:
And so, if folks can't use the forest in the way they've always used the forest, there's a different type of poverty that occurs and a type of social fracturing, where people are hyper-aware of who may have benefited from the mining company's presence, who's benefiting from the conservation offset being there, and then who's not. And so, there's a real disequilibrium I saw. I think one of the things that's most important that I also learned though, is that in all of those villages, people are taking trees to build houses. They are taking trees to stay warm. They are occasionally killing a lemur to eat. They are panning the river for gold when they need some money for school fees or to pay someone's medical bills. Extraction is the fundamental human activity, and I think there's a part of us in the US, that really wants to find some environmentally squeaky way of being, where we have no impact upon the planet.

Katherine Standefer:
And that's actually not a real thing, and that was a surprising lesson for me to learn in this journey. But what I saw is that there are very different ways to be in relationship to what we consider resources. Even though we all are eating other beings in order to stay alive, whether plant or animal, even though we all are using resources to go about our daily lives, we in the West specifically, do not have a sense of the sacred. So, when we take from land, we do not complete the cycle. There is not a question for us of, "How do I give back to this place?" We live in a society that builds products, according to planned obsolescence, things are built to break. And defibrillators too, are built to have a particular life cycle and are not built to be reused or repaired or even dismantled so that their materials can go on and become other things.

Katherine Standefer:
And so, one of the things that I really learned through the process of studying what is in a defibrillator and where it could come from, all of the different situations that it might originate in, is that if we are going to choose to use certain materials, the cultural shift that I find myself almost desperate for at this point, having been to these mountains, is to understand how to close that cycle and how to value things more deeply.

Annemarie Kelly:
I was struck, I think it was the Ambatovy mine in Madagascar, that had the conservation area surrounding it, that when I read about that, I thought that was wonderful because that's good for the earth. The lemurs will be protected. The forests can heal. But I had never thought about the ways in which conservation efforts displace and disrupt people's lives. That as a mine might attempt to do the right thing by the land, it could be doing the wrong thing by the people, and that even when the people are attempting to do what they consider to be the right thing by the land, dictated by generational history and culture, that that might not be the best thing for the animals.

Annemarie Kelly:
That the cycle that you discovered on your trips to these mines was like nothing I had ever thought of, and again, this was coming from the defibrillator placed in your heart. Dr. Ackerman put it well when he said, "The only wrong things that have been done so far, are everything that's been done so far." That it turned out, again, not trying to spoil it for the listeners, you may not have needed the ICD in the first place. I think that's when I threw the book, I got to be honest. It was then.

Katherine Standefer:
I'm glad you made it to chapter 15 without throwing the book.

Annemarie Kelly:
Oh my gosh, Katherine, I'm not a violent person, but I needed to beat the shit out of something at that point. I'm wondering about big feelings and this might play into your work as a trauma doula, but where do you put your anger or is it grief? Where do you put the big feelings about your story and how do you help others to do the same?

Katherine Standefer:
That's such a wonderful question, because I do think a lot of my experience in the midst of some of these, whether doctor's visits or hospital visits or the moments just after them, I was very much trained by the culture to be leery of my own reactions. As though my grief was too big, as though my rage was just hysteria. And one of the things that's so striking about having to write traumatic scenes is that you can't do it without processing that experience back through you, and that's fundamentally why trauma writing is so hard. Our bodies are trying to protect us. When we go through overwhelming experiences that we can't easily integrate, the body finds ways of storing them, that are intended to allow us to go back to normal life.

Katherine Standefer:
To write about trauma is to ask the body to open that wound and move material through you that is not, it's not linear. You can't chip away at it in the same way as other types of writing. You can't necessarily expect that you should be able to show up and just work for an hour and get from this event to another event. The process of writing the book was really a reckoning with the validity of my big feelings at every stage. And you don't come into your own authority in that way without feeling those feelings. Without the horrible realization that when you have become a person who screams at billing agents on the phone, as I had become, it's because what you are screaming about is in proportion. My rage is in proportion to the injury of the system.

Katherine Standefer:
People don't scream unless they haven't been heard through other means. I think that's one of the ways that my story helped me understand moments like the George Floyd protests. When people are screaming it's because they already tried talking quietly. So, in order to write this material, a lot of it happened in this little earth home, off-grid at the edge of a mesa in New Mexico, actually not far from where I live now. Where I would get to these certain parts of the book that were so hard to write and I would have to just really be with my body and experience the activation as it was rising and see what it wanted from me.

Katherine Standefer:
Did it need me to breathe a certain way? Did it need me to move a certain way? Did it need me to scream? And in the process, it created a sort of vastness in me, for not only holding this tender love toward all these versions of myself who was living through the overwhelming experiences, but also for how many of us are living through these experiences and then not having the chance to pause and unfold in this way. That we're all walking around with just reams of things crammed inside our bodies. And that has told me a lot about the society we live in.

Annemarie Kelly:
Absolutely. When you write about your story, you begin one paragraph by saying that, "On the last day of my first life." And I thought that there was something both true because you dropped in a parking lot, so it was the beginning of your second life, but also there was a way of thinking that I saw born in you throughout the latter half of the book, and then your journeys around the world. It reminded me of the, I think it's a Confucian quote, something like, "We all have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one." I think that if you are going to journey through something like you have endured, for you, the things that you have lost from that first life ... And I find myself hearing something in the indomitability of your spirit that maybe has been born in this second life, and I'm wondering if there's anything that you feel you've gained in this second life of yours?

Katherine Standefer:
Oh, I love this question, because I think the stark divide between the first life and second life has only become quite as clear since I finished the book. I think part of that is because finishing the book was the completion of the initiation of these experiences. We live in a culture that no longer has ritualized initiations, I mean, we have a few thresholds that we acknowledge, but they're honestly not very meaningful thresholds, when you consider what initiation has meant in other cultures. And I am a person who's been through multiple death initiations and what I've learned is that it's not just about having the trauma happen to you. It's about then the process of actually walking through the forest in the aftermath of that, really being in the underworld of how these experiences change your movements on the planet and change your connections with other people.

Katherine Standefer:
I'm also intensely aware that the way I am built is different from every other human being and that there are things I have to offer that are different from every other human being. And that the time to make use of that is not later, because later is a myth, later is not a thing. And it's been really interesting in this COVID moment to see our collective initiation into a little bit of that thinking. Although, I think a lot of folks are doing what they can to resist it and distract themselves and numb, which makes sense, because it's really, really hard.

Katherine Standefer:
But I know myself and some other folks who've experienced chronic illness, have been just watching with a little bit of amusement, as some folks experience for the first time what it's like when you really can't put things on the calendar, when you really don't know what time will look like, or how much time you have, will I be around to do that writers' residency next year? Will writing residencies even exist? This living in suspended motion that forces your horizon much, much, much closer. And what is it that we want to do, if we only have so much time? How do we get through this awareness of death and the way our world can become small, when we're only attending to that?

Katherine Standefer:
In the way some of us are now, when we are just in our houses, hiding from death, we have to really come into a different sensitivity about what's available to us in any given moment and what it is that we want most in our lives. I think in this next phase of my life, now that the book is out, part of what I'm trying to understand is, what are the ways in which moving this story through me, excavated me? What are the capacities that I've learned, that changed the way I've lived, and how can they be of service?

Annemarie Kelly:
Oh, that was gorgeous. I just love that. Absolutely. I think that we all want to be thinking about how life and death move through us and how we can be of service. I might just put that right here on my computer so I can remember it every single day. I could talk to you forever and it's not fair that we have a time limit on this thing. So, I have a closing introduction that we always do with people in the brief moments at the end. I know people like to do icebreakers at the beginning. When you went to camp, they probably started with icebreakers. I like to end with icebreakers. I'll give you just a couple of either/or questions and then a few short answers. Would you say that you are more of an early bird or a night owl?

Katherine Standefer:
Normally early bird. During COVID, night owl.

Annemarie Kelly:
It's hard not to be. Coffee or tea?

Katherine Standefer:
Tea.

Annemarie Kelly:
Cake or pie?

Katherine Standefer:
Pie.

Annemarie Kelly:
All right. Mountains or beach, I think I know the answer to this.

Katherine Standefer:
Mountains.

Annemarie Kelly:
Of course. Of course. Are you a risk taker or are you the person who always knows where the band-aids are?

Katherine Standefer:
Oh, I'm a risk taker.

Annemarie Kelly:
Yeah, I figured as much. All right. And a few short answers here, who was one of your best teachers?

Katherine Standefer:
I have a spiritual teacher I study with right now in Santa Fe and I would say, Zhenevere Sophia Dao is the person who is teaching me how to move across the bridge from trauma back into aliveness.

Annemarie Kelly:
Oh, we're all going to need her number. Okay.

Katherine Standefer:
She's at the MogaDao Institute.

Annemarie Kelly:
Excellent. We will put a link to that on our page. A favorite song book, movie, you could give me two, three or one favorites. What are some of your favorites?

Katherine Standefer:
Well, my favorite book of all-time is the way I found my way to that teacher, Zhenevere Sophia Dao, her name used to be Daniel Villasenor, and the book is called The Lake. And it's this densely poetic novel about a philosopher who has basically thought life out of existence and lies down in the road to die, and the book is this journey into being alive. So, I read this book when I was 15, wrote a review of it in 2009, actually right when I moved to Boulder to get my ICD. And received a letter from the author five years later, when she wasn't able to sell her next novel and so, she self-published it, and she knew that I was one of her readers. That's how I ended up coming to study at the MogaDao Institute, but that early book called The Lake, under the name Daniel Villasenor, changed my life.

Annemarie Kelly:
I love that. That is wonderful. And I also love the way that we walk with people for a time on a journey and then we might go other paths and then, sometimes our paths find each other again.

Katherine Standefer:
Yeah.

Annemarie Kelly:
Sometimes we carry them in our pockets and other times we actually do meet them at a different part because our work together is not finished. It sounds like that's yours.

Katherine Standefer:
Yes. Yes.

Annemarie Kelly:
I have a few more for you. What is one reason that we should keep chickens?

Katherine Standefer:
Because they make funny little sounds. They're the best little friends.

Annemarie Kelly:
They really are. They really are.

Katherine Standefer:
In case listeners have not found their way to my Instagram, which is on and off basically Chickengram. I have six hens, they will be roaming this property pecking around at things and yeah, just making a lot of really cute sounds and getting really fluffy and giving themselves dust baths, and it's incredibly, incredibly amusing.

Annemarie Kelly:
It really is. My sister names all her chickens after flowers. So, she's got Marigold and Lily and lots of them. And one of my favorite pictures is of her husband with a chicken who jumped from the perch of his arm, to his shoulder, to the top of his head. It's just joy. When you've seen a man with a chicken on his head, they're fun.

Katherine Standefer:
They are joy. Yeah. I have a familiar named The Tiger Queen, who follows me around. And I have two chickens named after parts of the Congo because of my research. I have a chicken named Walikale and a chicken named Kivu, and I also have a chicken named Logan after my Logan Nonfiction Fellowship.

Annemarie Kelly:
Nice. That's wonderful. You have to see if you can wish on a chicken and name it after something in the future even. Chicken wishes, I wonder if they're real.

Katherine Standefer:
Oh, interesting. Well, I'll have a chicken named Pulitzer and a chicken named Whiting.

Annemarie Kelly:
PEN/Faulkner the chicken. I like it. What's your favorite ice cream? Ice cream factors in Lightning Flowers from time to time, so what's your favorite ice cream flavor?

Katherine Standefer:
That is so hard because I really love ice cream, but if I could only eat one, probably either vanilla or a bourbon brittle type vanilla-based ice cream.

Annemarie Kelly:
I love the number of times that people bring you ice cream in the hospital, and it made me think that sometimes when someone you're caring for is indisposed, you're just not sure what to do. And I think that when in doubt, bringing ice cream is maybe not a bad idea because someone will want it, if not them. And I love the people in the book who come to your side. I think that is part of our fear of suffering is some of us don't know how to be near someone who's in pain. Right? We're so good at putting on our faces and being in communion with someone when we're well, but what it means ... There's only a handful of folks in my life, I think, who know how to come to me when I'm not well, and I think there's something beautiful about that. Okay. And then, the last one is simply, if we were to take a picture of you really happy and doing something that you love, what would we see in that picture?

Katherine Standefer:
I would probably be chopping wood with my chickens free ranging around me, maybe freshly back from a trail run.

Annemarie Kelly:
I love that. I have this idea in my head that at one point we'll get each of these framed pictures and that will be my background instead of the coats in my closet-

Katherine Standefer:
I love that.

Annemarie Kelly:
... will be all the framed pictures of everyone in their moment. The book is Lightning Flowers, which you can order or pick up from any independent bookstore near you. And I hope today's conversation demonstrated it, that this book will find a home inside of you. You will breathe more deeply and you will breathe differently because you walked for a pace with Katherine Standefer in her pages. I know I feel that way. And Katherine, as you taught us in this book, it matters how we choose to spend our time, and I'm just so grateful that you spent a few of your wild and precious moments with us.

Annemarie Kelly:
For people who are listening at home, if you're on your podcast walk, or if you are loading the dishwasher for what feels like the 113th time this week, we know that your time is a gift as well and so, I'm grateful that you spent it here with us today. I'm wishing all of you love and light wherever this day takes you. Katherine Standefer, I'm wishing you health and wellness. And until next time, be good to yourself, be good to one another, and we will see you again on this wild, precious journey.

Annemarie Kelly:
Wild Precious Life is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Special thanks to executive producers, Gerardo Orlando and Michael DeAloia. Producer, Sarah Willgrube, and audio engineer, Eric Koltnow. Be sure to subscribe and follow us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

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