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Attica Locke
Tembi Locke
November 2, 2022

Life, Loss, and All Kinds of Love, Part 1 of 2

with Attica Locke & Tembi Locke

On this episode of Unlocking Us

I had the best conversation with Attica and Tembi Locke, writers, showrunners, executive producers, and the creative sister duo behind the Netflix series From Scratch, based on Tembi’s 2019 memoir of the same name, about love, Sicily, and finding home. We started talking about the series and their story, and then we really went everywhere from there—this turned into a full-blown LIFE conversation. Which, if you’ve seen the series, will not surprise you at all. I’m so glad you’re here for this.

Show notes

Attica and Tembi Locke are the creative duo, showrunners/writers, executive producers, and sisters behind Netflix’s limited series From Scratch, based on the true-life story of Tembi and inspired by her New York Times best-selling memoir of the same name.

From Scratch on Netflix

From Scratch is a cross-cultural love story that follows Amy (played by Zoe Saldaña), an American student studying abroad in Italy, as she meets and falls in love with Lino, a Sicilian chef. Their whirlwind romance faces many unforeseen challenges, including their very different cultural backgrounds of which Lino’s family is not accepting of Amy’s. But when Lino is faced with unimaginable health challenges and the couple’s future is threatened, the two families come together to create an extended family unlike any they could have imagined, proving that love crosses all borders.

Transcript

Brené Brown: Hi everyone, I’m Brené Brown, and this is Unlocking Us.

[music]

BB: Oh my God, I have the best conversation. If you have not seen From Scratch on Netflix yet, you’ve got to see it. In fact, yesterday I saw a post by Katie Couric on my feed that was like, “I just watched this, and I was looking for something light-hearted and I’m wrecked.” She wrote wrecked in all caps. It is really good. So, I am talking to Attica and Tembi, who are the show runners, writers, executive producers, and the creative duo behind the Netflix series, From Scratch. It just came out on October 21st. And it’s based on Tembi’s 2019 memoir. It’s a true story, it’s her story. We start talking about the series and their story, and then we go everywhere. It’s a full-blown life conversation, which, again, if you’ve seen the series will not surprise you. I’m so glad you’re here for this.

[music]

BB: Okay, before we get started, let me tell you a little bit about the folks we’re talking to. So, let’s start with Tembi. So, after going through a monumental roller coaster life experience, Tembi put pen to paper and began the very cathartic experience of writing down her personal story, and you know how we feel about stories here. This turned into Simon & Schuster’s New York Times bestselling memoir, From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home. Which was then chosen as a 2019 Reese Book Club Pick and picked up by Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine production company and Netflix.

BB: So besides being a bestselling author, Tembi is as a TV producer, an actor, a screenwriter, and an advocate who is a nationally recognized speaker. She talks about resilience, loss, motherhood. She’s got a great TedX talk. Her online platform, which I love, is called The Kitchen Widow. She really talks about her advocacy work and love of food, to create a space for conversation about caregiving, grief, parenthood, illness, as well as sharing recipes. All things inspired by love. Attica is also a New York Times bestselling author. This has some serious sister, like wonder-twin powers activate. They’re not twins, but they’ve got this sister activation going in creativity.

BB: So Attica is also a New York Times bestselling author, who has written five novels and been honored with a myriad of accolades, including an Edgar Award, the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction, the Ernest Gaines Award for Literary Excellence and the NAACP Image Award. She is a former fellow at the Sundance Institute Feature Filmmakers Lab, screenwriter, producer. You have seen her if f you’ve seen Empire, When They See Us, Little Fires Everywhere, you’ve seen her at work. Let’s just jump into this conversation and I cannot wait for you to meet Tembi and Attica. Just wow. We go there.

[music]

Attica Locke: Can we freak out now?

Tembi Locke: Can we do it?

BB: Let’s freak out.

[vocalization]

AL: Oh my God. I might cry through this interview, podcast.

TL: So, I was crying, and then I napped and then I hydrated, and then I was like meditated, and I want to hydrate some more. We are so happy to be here, you have no idea. Or maybe you do, I don’t know. It’s beautiful, to be here with you.

BB: I’m starstruck. I have two words for you about From Scratch. Je Sus.

[laughter]

TL: Spoken like a Texan. Spoken like a Texan. Break it up. Break it up into all the syllables.

BB: Those are my two words.

TL: I love it.

[laughter]

BB: I mean that in a prayerful way. Je Sus.

AL: Oh my God.

BB: Oh my God, this show. So let me just start by saying this, then we’ll get to the questions, so I just have to say, okay, coming back from sabbatical, it’s kind of a shitshow when I went off, the three months off were really hard, and then we came back and I was like, “I just want to talk to people who bring joy, who I’m really excited about, and we have to find Attica and Tembi. We have to find them. I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but we have to find them, and I’m going to watch From Scratch.” I get the screener. Laura Mayes gets the screener. We’re both fifth-generation Texans. This is the conversation. “Oh my God, this is incredible. Oh my God, this is so good. Oh, you know what? This is bullshit, I’m not watching anymore… Oh God, this is so good I can’t stop watching it. Oh no, this show is bullshit, I’m not… This is it.” She was like, “Is this your joyful show?” I’m like, “Shut up! Don’t even talk to me.”

[laughter]

BB: She’s like, “But this is your joyful show? I’m like, “It’s so good, yeah.”

TL: Attica and I, all along in the making of this series, were having to hold the joy and the pain side by side, because, one, life. Life…

BB: Life. Life.

TL: Is that. Life. Two, love is that, and grief is that, for us, for so many people. And I feel like any… And I say this because people who are deeper thinkers than I, smarter people than I, have talked about the fact that any conversation about death is really a disguised conversation about living.

BB: Okay, stop.

TL: How do we want to live our lives?

BB: Say that again.

TL: Any conversation about death is really a disguised conversation about living. It’s about how we want to live our lives. And so when we talk about our loss, when we visit it, when we really… It’s an invitation to think about the living, and how we want to live and what we want to leave behind, and the quality and kinds of the relationships we want to have. And when someone told me that deep in my grief, it rang such a clear bell for me that I was like, “Yes, that is what this is about.” It’s about how do we want to live this life? And that’s what my late husband was teaching me, throughout his illness, through his active passing, what I learned grieving, what Attica and I learned together making this series, is like life, the joy of life, it’s also there and it’s also present. So that’s what I felt moved to say [chuckle] right out the box.

AL: Yeah.

BB: Yeah, I mean beautiful. Steve kept saying, “Are you okay?” And I just said, “This is full contact engagement. These women are not letting me off the hook, dammit.”

AL: Thank you for that.

BB: Yeah, no, this is, God, you just don’t see writing like this. You just don’t see writing like this.

AL: We had, Brené, we put together a writer’s room, a team of writers that helped us take what literally happened and blow it out into a fictionalized version with some aspects that are exactly what happened in real life, and some that are the essence of what happened in real life. And what we were looking for when we interviewed all of those writers is it was beyond what they could do on paper. Yes, I wanted writers that could write well, but I really wanted people who were willing to hang out in the mess of life, who were willing to have existential questions and sit with that, and that’s really what I wanted. I wanted one of those dinner parties that is, you’d gone through about the third bottle of wine, it’s about 11:37, and we’re all still sitting at the table, and we start to get real, real; that is what I wanted our writer’s room to feel like every day. And so, we invited in that level of depth. And I think that’s how we got what you’re saying, where we don’t pull any punches on what feels like the truth of Tembi and Saro’s existence and the existence of a lot of people who know big love and who know big loss and who are wrestling with, not to quote Prince, but to quote Prince, “This thing we call life.” We’re all trying to figure it out.

BB: I have this thing, and I don’t know if it hit me in my 50s, but I have this thing where I don’t know how to talk about it very well yet. I always tell Steve, “I’m really drawn to stripy people” and if you come to me and there’s no integration of light and darkness, there’s no integration of grief and love, of war and art, of beauty and death, if you have compartmentalized the hard shit, you feel dangerous to me.

TL: Oh yes. Oh yes.

BB: Do you understand what I mean?

TL: I completely understand what you mean. And I actually thank you for giving me a visual as a person who’s a visual person, the stripy-ness of it all. Because there are no hard lines. It’s all this deep interweaving and if someone has, to their satisfaction compartmentalized, then I know what, as they say in Sicily, you have put a stone on. Like you’ve had to put a stone on it. To tamp that down, to relegate that to the margins, you’ve had to put a stone on it. And if that stone comes flying off, I don’t know what’s going to pop out. Meaning, it takes a great deal of effort, more effort, this is the secret to life, I think, more effort to actually tamp it down and compartmentalize and put it in a box, than it does to actually freaking let it hang out, be messy, be all the things. And so when I see someone that’s at, one, I see the struggle, I see the pain. Even if it’s covered or masked or presented beautifully and all of that, you feel it, and it feels dangerous. I know for me it would be dangerous to my heart because I couldn’t feel safe with someone like that. I couldn’t feel safe in the presence of that.

BB: Because it’s like the stone is on top of a pressure cooker. [laughter] At some point that shit’s going to fly and take somebody’s eye out.

TL: Yes, it is. Exactly.

BB: The other thing is too that, I’ll tell you when I felt like this, when I felt like love, grief, loss, humor, it had some Alice Walker feel to it, to me. Because there were moments that I was laughing. [laughter] And there are probably Texas moments too, because I was like, Steve came downstairs and he’s like, “What is wrong with you?” And I had it on pause and I was like, “This Black woman says she’s been looking at like she felt when she was at a Stuckey’s in Alabama.”

TL: Yes, baby.

BB: She was just minding her business getting her pecan roll.

TL: Yes, yes.

BB: In Alabama.

TL: Yes.

BB: And some white scary people walked into that Stuckey’s and I was just like, this moment of… Okay, let’s start. Where did y’all grow up?

AL: Houston.

TL: Houston with summers in East Texas and specifically Lufkin, with some weekends in Marshall, Texas. Yeah.

BB: Holy shit.

AL: All of our people are from little towns along Highway 59. We are also generations and generations of Texans going back to slavery. There’s like a little offshoot of us that went north, but really, we’ve been there for decades and generations.

TL: Yeah, five or six generations.

AL: Yeah, and we spent a lot of time in Rural East Texas growing up.

BB: Rural East Texas growing up?

TL: Uh-huh. Yes, and our grandparents are from a town called Nigton. So let me just leave it there.

AL: Nigton.

TL: Texas, East Texas.

BB: Yeah. I’m processing right now because East of 59 has got a… When I would travel with my friends, several of whom were Black, we would just say, just to be honest with you, we’d say, “We’ve got to get gas now because we’re not stopping until we get to New Orleans.”

TL: For sure. Oh yes. Oh yes. And so, to come from people who navigated that space for generations and who managed to come out emotionally intact, educated, loving, speaks to something.

BB: Oh yeah. Y’all are prolific creators. Both of you are artists and prolific creators. Tell me about growing up. How did that happen?

AL: Well, we played a lot. We had a lot of play in our lives, and we didn’t get a lot of nos from some early expressions of wanting to do certain things. I believe that we asked early on to be in theater programs. I’m not even sure, you’re the older one, Tembi, so maybe you thought of it for… I don’t know who said, “Let’s do theater.” But they were like, “Okay.” And they found theater programs for us to be in.

TL: Yes. It was actually by default because the Alley Theater, which is in Houston, which is one of the big programs we did, was right near an office that I think mom had. And she was like, “You like that stage thing? Go to the Alley Theater, I can pick you up at 6:00.” And they gave us snacks. So it was a mother who was very practical, but also could see that it did give us joy. And so yeah, we did programs outside of the school and then wherever there was a theater program within the school, we would do that. And as Attica said, as children very early on, like our grandmother was a primary school, elementary school teacher. I think she taught the third grade in a one room schoolhouse for colored children. That was her whole career. And so I think she understood developmentally the power of play, first and foremost. I think she also allowed us to, at times, literally turn over the furniture in her living room and make believe spaces.

TL: We would have like a grocery store in one corner of her very tiny living room with the shag carpet [chuckle] and the color TV with the knobs. That was very… We thought it was super fancy. And then we’d have like our penthouse apartment over there and she allowed us our imaginations to run wild. And I think now, as a adult woman who’s a mom myself, that some part of her I think understood that these young Black girls need the space to imagine. And if they can do that inside the confines of my home where it is safe and they can be and do whatever they want, give them that. And I don’t know if she thought that consciously, but her actions certainly speak to that because she never, as Attica said, said no. And we had to clean it up. We had to clean it up when it was all done. [laughter] because, hello, we had to do that, but we got to play.

AL: Yeah. The only time I ever got in trouble was, Tembi, Papa, our grandfather, when I would do Barbies in the sink, he would be mad at me for running the water too long.

TL: Yeah, it was, well, yeah, because he had to pay water bill.

BB: Yeah, he had to pay the water bill.

AL: Yeah. Other than that, it was free reign.

BB: You’re both, again, prolific writers. Did you write growing up? Did you write in high school? Did you do any formal training around writing? The kind of writing you do, it’s all over the place. I’ve read a bunch of articles. There’s books. Where does the writing training come from?

AL: I remember writing as a child. I don’t remember taking it seriously. It was another form of play for me. I wrote my first story in a hotel room when I was 11 because we were doing a family reunion, and our family reunions are a little bit extra. There’s like a talent show. It’s too many events going on. It’s like a rodeo component and stuff. Yes, it’s too much. It was too much.

TL: Matching t-shirts.

AL: Matching t-shirts. I had to be… One year my cousins and I had to be the Supremes and like we were like 11. I was like, I dunno. So even at that early age, I was like, “I need a break.” And I remember sitting in a hotel room on the hotel stationary, writing a story, and it was the first time in my life I chose the pleasure of the solitude and the pleasure of my own mind over hanging out with other people, and it was a pivotal moment. I remember it very, very vividly. So it was a thing I returned to for fun. It’s fun to sit by yourself and think things up. And I would write on the back of our dad’s stationary, legal stationary, and I’d play with the tie. It was just play… I liked the tie. I just loved it. And I just didn’t think about a career. I just liked doing it. It wasn’t until I was older that I thought, “Oh wait, I’m a storyteller. Like that’s what I fundamentally do.” But I’ve always written, and I think our play was very writerly. I think a lot of girls do this and I shouldn’t even make that gender. And I think a lot of young children do this with their action figures and Barbies. The stories were very elaborate. They had prologues and there was epilogues and it was very intense connections and multi-generational layered world of Barbie. It was great storytelling, I think.

BB: Wow. Y’all were deeply in the heroes myth before you probably knew there was a Joseph Campbell, right?

TL: Completely.

BB: You were Act 1 and this is where the penthouse is.

TL: Yes.

BB: This is an Act 2 and here are our characters and inciting events. God, I just keep thinking back to your grandma and play. And we know the data say that there is this tremendous relationship between play and creativity, but y’all are the first out of hundreds of people we’ve talked to that made that connection for us organically. You played.

AL: And to a certain degree, I’ll even say now, when I talk about, and I’m a very neurotic person. I mean I have so many neuroses, but what I’ve learned to do as I’ve gotten older is to return to play in my writing as an adult to rather than approach it like, “Well, I’ve got to go slog through this and I need this chapter. Hey, I’m just going to go hang out with my mind. Let’s go put down whatever I feel like.” I try to play music. I try to be in comfortable clothes. I might write in bed. I’m trying to divorce it from a sense of a right and wrong way to do things or conventional work in the sense of I go and punch a clock. I’m trying to incorporate the feeling of play into more aspects of my life, and I think people who aspire to write would do well to stay as close to a feeling of play as possible. Because there’s no judgment in play. There’s no judgment in play. You are just playing.

BB: That’s it. They’re not the shame trigger saying, “This is all you have on page one. We’ve been here for 45 minutes. You think you’re starting this way? This is… ” No, it’s so, such great reminder and advice and guidance. So I’d love to hear from both of you. Were there moments you’re like, “I’m going to do this for a living”?

TL: My path is different than Attica’s. In so far as I journaled as a child. I didn’t really do a lot of creative writing. I did assigned so at school, like in high school and I loved it, but I was a journaler. And mostly my journaling was, I can see now and as I’ve gone back and read some of the early… I even have a journal from when I was 14, like that early, right? And it was a lot of me trying to make sense of what I was feeling. Like when I go back and look at it, it was like I would go to the journal when there was a problem. There was something that wasn’t working. Apparently, there was no one I could talk to, especially when you’re 14. [chuckle]

BB: Oh, Yeah, yeah, right.

TL: So I just wrote about it. [chuckle] I just wrote about it, and I wrote about it over and over and over again. And that was a practice. It was informal. It wasn’t daily. I might go six months and not write a single thing, and then I might write nine months straight. And that was throughout my adult life. And I always saw, we’re talking to siblings, right? So, in the family, Attica was the writer. Attica was the writer. We had these kind of assigned rules.

BB: Yeah, yeah.

TL: No one like sort of said it, but it was like, “Okay, Attica’s the writer.” And I was like, “Oh, I’m the actor in front of the camera person and she’s the writer.” And so, although I enjoyed it, I didn’t have a lot of permission to say I’m now professionally going to be a writer. I was professionally an actor, a journeyman actor. And yet, [laughter] life came a calling in the form of my husband’s illness, which is an interesting way into my writing. For me was that when he was diagnosed and I suddenly couldn’t act and I couldn’t work and I didn’t have a creative outlet, I thought, “Well what can I do that doesn’t require a set or a script or a director or costumes? Oh, I can write and maybe I need to write about this thing that’s happening in my life right now, which is really big and I feel is changing me in some way.”

TL: And so I took creative writing classes at UCLA online, just for me, just as something creative for me to do as a caregiver. And I would write bedside when he was in the hospital, and I would write during chemo treatments. And I was mostly writing down what was happening because I think it was that journaler in me, the person who’d been journaling her whole life, needed to document it because it was all happening also so fast that I couldn’t make sense of it all and I couldn’t go to him to talk about it often, and he was my best everything. So, writing became a way to do that. And it was much later, after he passed, and it was because of Attica, that I thought about, “Oh, maybe I have a book that I could write and share with the world.” So, I have a whole different way into it. Attica always knew, “I want to be a professional writer.” So, I was like, I like to tell stories and I like to act out stories and I’m a creative person, but I was hesitant and I needed to grow into the bravery to write my own story.

BB: I just love the return to making sense of feelings through journaling and the return to that at this really crisis traumatic moment in your life. Like, I’m going to make sense of this the way I did when I was 14. I’m going to start pen to paper writing. Wow. What about you? Did you say, “I’m going to be a writer and I’m a writer,” and how do you get from East Texas to where y’all are?

[laughter]

BB: What’s The bus schedule for… [laughter] What’s the…

AL: Well, I first got it in my head in high school that I was going to be a movie director, and that’s because I saw, and nobody should have let me see this movie at 15. I saw She’s Gotta Have It and I should not have…

BB: Ooh, I love that movie? [laughter]

TL: That’s because I took her. I took her to see the movie, the older sister.

BB: Oh, you’re bad.

TL: I was like, “We’re going to go see this movie.” And yeah, I changed her life. Attica, Thank you. You can thank me.

AL: Thank you. And it was amazing because I was seeing people who looked like me on screen telling a kind of serious story that wasn’t Roots. And I don’t mean anything pejorative about Roots. We need Roots. But it was contemporary life. It was contemplative life. It was a woman trying to be alive, have love. It was just so revelatory to me, and I thought, “I want to do that.” And so I went to college to become a movie director. I went to Northwestern; I was a film student. Shortly after college, I did the Sundance Labs. I was on a path to become a movie director. And again, only looking at writing at that time, it was trying to get me to something else to be a movie director, and I thought, “If I write my own stories, they’ll let me direct them.” No, they did not. [laughter] They did not. And I got a movie deal when I was like 25-years-old to make a story about rural East Texas.

AL: And we were close to a location scouting, and we were deep in when the studio said, “Actually, no, we’re not going to make it.” And it was an independent studio, and they were saying they couldn’t raise foreign financing for a story that was Black and rural, and also had a bunch of white characters, so, “Who do you market this to? Whose movie is it? And so, thank you, Attica, but we’re going to move on.” And there’s this narrative in Hollywood. It’s finally been dislodged, but for a window of time, the idea that the rest of the world was not interested in Black stories was a hard and fast kind of rule in Hollywood. So, what I heard at 25 is, “There’s not a business model for who you are.” Because I knew I was going to write about Texas.

BB: Jesus. Yeah.

AL: I knew I just going to write rural stuff, I knew it was going to have Black people in it, I knew it was going to have white people in it. I live an integrated existence. So, I thought, “I’m fucked,” and I was also broke. I was young and poor, and my husband was about to go to law school. And I went, “Well, but I remember, well, you can write. So, okay, I’ll do that. I got it. I’ll write the scripts for the movies that they are going to make, and I will make a nice living, and I will simply take who I am and what I really care about, my voice, and I’ll just put it in a drawer, and I’ll just make this living,” and I did that for about 10 years. And I worked for every single major studio.

AL: The joke was on me, because none of those movies ever got made either. And around the time Saro got ill, I began to ask myself this very question we started with, “How do you want to live? How do you want to live?” And I realized that, “We don’t have all the time in the world, and I’m not enjoying this. This isn’t fundamentally what I thought it was going to be, or what I wanted it to be, and so I’m done.” And I walked away. I walked away from Hollywood, and I felt like Hollywood didn’t love me, and didn’t want me, and I became a novelist. Because Tembi came at it at a different one. She said, “It’s cheap. I can afford it. I can afford to tell a story on paper.” I didn’t need a crew, I didn’t need anybody to greenlight a story, and through that I found my voice again, like really found my voice again, and became stronger as a woman, as a writer, and then found my way back to Hollywood. And to Tembi’s credit, she had been telling me the whole time, “You’re not done. You’re not done with Hollywood, and Hollywood is not done with you.” Yes, so we both in our lives…

BB: She was right. Speaking on the behalf of older sisters, I just want to say that… my younger sister’s over here going like, “Shut up,” just want to say, that she may have had some insight there.

TL: Brené, thank you. Thank you, that is, I will take that, I will ride that home. That is fantastic. Attica, take that in. Now, you know, it’s been sanctioned by Brené.

[laughter]

BB: Yeah, yeah, yeah. For older sisters everywhere, it’s a bag of shit, but there it is. Okay, so let me ask you this. When you were writing your novels that didn’t need anyone’s approval, that didn’t need the green light, that didn’t need the foreign finance, that, “How do you put Black and white people, and why is there a story?” Yeah, I know that existed, and I know that some people still live in that mindset actually, but through the novel writing, did you come back to yourself?

AL: Yes. And it was, other than motherhood, the single most transformative experience of my life, was writing that first book. It was wonderful, wonderful. I was scared, but I also felt exhilarated. I felt so free. I felt in total play, because nobody cared, nobody cared what I was doing. I just played. And I played in a way that was honoring of the stories I heard growing up. I learned that my narrator’s voice is often very similar to the kind of oral storytelling I grew up with folks in Texas. I realized I have a kind of front porch shelling peas kind of way of telling stories. And I was able to honor that in its purity, and so it was wonderful for me. I don’t think I’d have the TV career I have now if I had not walked away, found my real self again, and came back.

BB: Because that’s what you bring now to what you do.

AL: Yes. Unapologetically.

BB: Unapologetically, right on.

[music]

BB: I want to talk about… This is a weird question. But Laura and I, again, she produces on our side, felt so grounded in this idea of land, terra firma, Sicily, Italy, Texas, land. It took me to, “Why did my Black ancestors never leave Texas,” the article, your article, because they knew land was power. And then ultimately in the Netflix series, Los Angeles. But let me tell you something. Even when you get to LA in this damn series, there is still dirt under your fingernails. Everywhere you take us, we get dirt under our fingernails. What does land and dirt and grounding mean to this series? Does my question even make sense?

TL: Yes, it makes sense to me.

AL: Yes, oh my God, it does.

TL: Yes, it makes sense. And for me, I will say it is everything. I mean, the sort of sub-title of the book is The Story of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home. And so all of those things are connected because they all touch the land. And what I mean by that is, my late husband is, was the son of farmers, people who literally made their living cultivating the Earth and sustained and cared for themselves and their community by what came out of the Earth, and it was so deeply primal and ingrained in who he was. And when I met him, although I could never have articulated that aspect of him right away, in fact, I didn’t know anything about Sicily, I didn’t know anything about his family, somewhere in him, I recognized a part of me, that was the granddaughter of sharecroppers and farmers and people in a rural space who eked out a living with what they had at hand and in front of them and made the most of that.

TL: And so somewhere, energetically, we were meeting up with this commonality, although, again, we couldn’t articulate that or know that at the time. I would come to understand that later. So the Earth beneath us, it’s very important. And for him, being a chef and me as the wife of a chef, I began to learn really what the role of standing on solid ground means in every sense. Like how you respect it, how you care for it, how you tend to it, was all a part of our daily lives. And of course, his livelihood depended on what came out of the Earth. So on just these literal levels, it’s meaningful, but I think, energetically, I think my whole life, I’ve been trying to find my place, my sense of place and where do I feel home, and I feel at home when I’m in parts of East Texas, no matter who’s around me or who’s in office, I can still call a piece of that Earth mine, and you cannot dislodge me from that.

BB: That’s right.

TL: And then I can find myself in Sicily, and that is also home in a different way. And so we wanted, with the series to show, not tell, show that to an audience and that you picked up on that, that you’ve got that that sense of terra firma, right?

BB: Yeah, yeah.

TL: The solid ground is thematically what Amy is looking for, I think it’s certainly what I’ve been looking for in my life, I think it’s what most of us are looking for, is with whom do I stand on solid ground? Where do I feel like I’m my most grounded self? Attica, what do you want to add? That’s what came to the top of my mind.

AL: Everything you said. I mean, everything you said and I’m just really touched that that thematic thing came through because there are things that we put on the page that you can’t literally translate, but you put it on the page because it opens a conversation, and my style of writing scripts is to have things in there that could almost be in a book, and you think, “What is, why is this even on the page?” But I hope it’s on the page because I hope it sparked something for the cinematographer or it sparked something for our director, Nzingha Stewart, or for production design. So, the things that feel esoteric, that I just tried to put in words, somehow, we managed to put together a team that could pick up on all of these less tangible things and make it part of the magic of the show, and it feels magical to me. Sometimes I feel like I don’t know how the hell we did this. I don’t know, I just… We did it one step at a time, but I know that in every step of the way we did things with great intention, and with great intention, we used language about the Earth in the scripts that you can’t literally film that sentence, but hopefully, and I think it did obviously, get into the minds and bodies of every cast and crew member who helped make this beautiful thing happen.

BB: I think I know the magic you’re talking about because the land piece was so, central for me watching it. It was a source of steadiness through some of the hard parts, but it was also a sense of rage for me during some of it, but you can’t have a scene in a show where your husband’s father is picking up ground and holding it, and then it pans to someone in LA picking up ground, and then a flashback to your grandfather. It’s like, it can’t be like that. But I think the only way you get that magic that you’re talking about, where you don’t tell us, you show us, I think that’s the product of truth telling. I think that’s the product of telling us the truth, because first of all, the way your husband’s father is portrayed in the series, I was like, “Damn, he is like so many Texas dads that I know.” He was not a stranger to me; you know what I mean? I want to kill him, but he was not a stranger to me.

BB: But then at the other time when we’re back in LA and the diagnoses are coming back, then we’re wondering like, there’s a wheeze at the table and I don’t know what’s happening, and then I immediately go back to this land thing, where “Bullshit”, this is not of the season. We cannot both be of the land and also fucking up the seasons. This is not of the season. We are not in this season. I refuse to let the season be upon us.” Like where it was also, “It is of the season, and it is of the ground, and it is of the dirt.” But the loss of control of something bigger than us is not a good thing for me. It was so hard.

TL: I love that you say that, “Not of the season.” I felt like so much of my life, especially during Saro’s illness, which was 10 years, he was ill for 10 years, 10 years I was his caregiver, and so many times we fell out of season with our peers, life. I remember one time he went to pick up our daughter from nursery school and she was running around barefoot as they do in LA at nursery school. [chuckle] And he said, “Come, it’s time to go.” And of course, she’s like three or four, and she ran in the opposite direction.

BB: Of course.

TL: And he couldn’t run to catch up with her. He couldn’t catch her. He had a cane, he had a limp, he couldn’t catch her. And he came home and he was so frustrated. He was so angry. And he said, “I should have been able to catch her. Every other dad could catch their kid. I couldn’t catch her. I had to wait until she was ready for me. Until she was ready to go home.” And in that story, what I remember is the pain he felt and that feeling of, “I’m out of step with where I’m supposed to be in life. And I’m out of control. In fact, a 4-year-old is controlling my life.” [laughter]

BB: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

TL: Not me.

BB: Things are out of order. Yeah.

TL: Yeah, she’s controlling pick-up time, not me. We’ll get home when she says we get home. But that sense of being completely out of control was, for me as his wife and his caregiver and as a mom, I thought, “Yeah, that’s where we are.” Nobody in this house is in control of this situation. And the way that feels unmooring, and you feel like there is no terra firma underneath your feet, there’s no ground. And when he was passing, it was spring, I’ll never forget. And for me, the idea of losing him in spring, it was too much. And it was something because we were so in tune with the seasons. We had a garden and I had planted fava beans, and I write about this. I planted fava beans that January because we were like, “Oh, we’ll have them at Easter. We’ll have a pasta with fava.” And so, seeing the fava beans sort of begin to sprout up as he’s… When it became very clear that he was leaving, I was holding both things simultaneously. And it was both grounding to know that the fava beans were still going to grow, even if my husband wasn’t going to be there. Like somehow that small detail was some bit of continuity. If that makes any sense at all.

BB: It completely makes sense in the most vulnerable, human way possible. It makes sense.

TL: Yeah.

AL: And I find that the older I get and the more we have experiences like this, you realize how much of life is sitting in contradiction. Learning how to hold contradictions.

BB: Yes, to hold the tension.

AL: That two things are true at the same time. That what your example, Tembi, of the fava beans being here and Saro being gone, the joy that we sometimes had of Zoela being able to sit with her dad in the bed as he’s dying, both of these things are real. Neither one is not true. He is both dying, and he is both having joy, and Zoela is having joy. And when I begin to recognize and learn how to tolerate the tension, life gets a hair more peaceful. Because you’re not trying to make things look one way. It goes back to when you talked about the stripes.

BB: That’s it.

AL: And you go back to being able to hold contradictions and you will feel less crazy, because you’re not trying to make everything sad or everything happy, you’re holding the fact that both things are true.

BB: Let me tell you there’s a scene. People may not intellectually be like…

[vocalization]

BB: The whole show is straddling the tension of opposites. The whole show.

AL: Oh, for sure.

BB: And that, I’m looking at my sister, who is here too, that one of the things we talk about with our therapists, with our kids, is the sentence, “This is happening, and this is happening. This is what you’re feeling, and this is what you’re feeling. Both things can be true.”

AL: Yes. Absolutely.

BB: Both things can be true.

AL: Yes.

BB: And there is a moment in this, as a caregiver, that I took every ounce of energy in my body not to pick up my Diet Coke and throw it into the television, really. Because you’re introduced to this idea, when you’re talking to a neighbor who lived through caregiving during the AIDS epidemic. And he says some hard stuff about caregiving that pissed me off, about the brutality of caregiving, and about the real finite resources that we have in caregiving, and deep love. And it was the introduction of this theme that I thought was so powerful in this show, which is, as a shame researcher, especially when I was early my career and interviewing so many people about shame, and I interviewed so many caregivers who said, “Can I tell you my deepest shame?” And I said, “Yeah, that’s why I’m here.” And they said, “I’m taking care of my husband” or “I’m taking care of my child, and some days I think it’s such an honor to take care of you, and on other days I think, Jesus, you need to die by four o’clock today. I got shit to do. I can’t do it.”

TL: Brené, you’ve cracked it wide open, because that, I could not have made this story without the truth of that scene and the truth of that sentiment. Because, one, it’s what I felt. I felt both of those contradictions, and I was blessed to have a partner because Saro and I… I remember specifically, there was a time we were getting ready to go to chemotherapy and he was taking forever to get from the front door to the car. And I watched him, I was in the driver’s seat, and I watched him slowly come down the steps, down the walkway, get to the car, and I thought, “I could just run him over. I could run him over.”

BB: Yeah. No.

TL: And I never said it, but he got in the car, and he looked at me, and he could see it on my face. He could see it on my face that I had the thought, and he said, “Yes, you could run me over, but there’d be no insurance money so let’s go to chemotherapy.”

[laughter]

TL: Like, come on. So, what I love about that is it’s all the things. It is the pain, it is the pathos, it’s the humor, it’s the deep love that I’m in contract to be brutally honest with you, because I know at the end of the day, I love you and you love me, and you are honoring my experience, and I’m honoring your experience. We didn’t get there day one of caregiving. That was like year eight. We grew to that deep level. But that idea of holding both things, those contradictions, and someone in my life had a conversation with me just like that early on in caregiving, she said, “You need to sign up for this consciously, not because you think society thinks you’re going to be the martyred wife who’s caring for the cancer husband, but because it is what you want to do, what you are choosing to do, that you are going to show up willingly through all of the hard stuff, and know that you are going to have to find a way to hold on to yourself in the process.” I was not ready for that conversation, and I got angry, I got mad.

BB: Oh, me too.

TL: I almost didn’t want to talk to her again. It was a woman in real life. I wasn’t able to talk to her, but it was the best conversation she could have. It was the best… It changed my life because I thought, “She’s right. And if this marriage, if this union, if this caregiving, if it’s going to work and the two of us have each other through it, it’s only going to be because we have to be absolutely honest.” And it doesn’t mean tell him every little negative thought that runs through my mind, because that is toxic, and that’s not helpful, but it is to bring the big stuff and to say, I remember he said to me, actually, in real life, which I write about in the book, we intimated in the series, but it’s not in dialogue. He told me at one point, he said, “I can’t give you what you need. You need to take a lover.” And that, I lost it. I was done. I said, “What are you talking about? I am not in contract to go take a lover. What are you even saying?”

TL: But that was his vulnerability speaking. He didn’t really mean it. He didn’t really mean it. What he was saying was, “Fuck if I am in this body that is betraying me, that doesn’t work the way I want it to work, and I feel like I’m going to lose you, and I see the sadness in your eyes, I see the… ” It was all the things. Right? So, I was grateful for those nuggets of honesty, and we wanted to put those in the series because I hope that the series is able to model for people that it’s okay to laugh and cry. It’s okay to have the hard conversations.

BB: Yeah, one of the things, the acting was so superb. Just the acting is so… When you see great writing, you’re like, “Oh, the writing is so good, but the acting just didn’t… It wasn’t in service of the writing.” Or you see great acting, but you’re like, “Uh, the writing, I don’t know.” But then you watch the series and you’re like, “This is a match made heaven between the acting and the writing. This is… shit.” But one of the things your character… This is one of my takes, of course, coming through my lens of my work, but one of my takes was, we know from the research and people don’t understand this at all, because it’s exactly what we’re talking about. It’s the counter-intuitive, both things can be true. We know in the research on mental toughness. I don’t care if you’re talking to a Navy Seal or an athlete, the core of mental toughness is actually self-compassion. People who are mentally tough stay mentally tough because they don’t slip easily into shame or self-criticism or self-loathing. Mental toughness depends.

BB: And the thing about the way this has played, your characters’ toughness in this is so there for us to see, but she’ll be like, “No, we’re going to do this and we’re going to do this,” and she’ll take a deep breath and go into a room and just snot cry, and just want to break everything, and then every now and then when her self-compassion is sliding, here comes her sister, who says, “You know what, God, you’re a pain in the ass, but you got to take it easier on yourself.” It was just the whole… Every scene is a reminder that what makes us vulnerable makes us beautiful, and that our vulnerability is our primary source of strength.

TL: Yes.

BB: And you don’t see that very often.

TL: Absolutely. So many people and this woman here in this conversation, my beautiful sister Attica, is one of the main people who has always…

AL: For a second I was like “Who are you talking about?”

TL: You, I’m talking about you. I’m talking about you, sister.

[laughter]

TL: Talking about how you frequently have… In our relationship, I am able and at critical moments have been able to have a part of myself reflected back to me that I’m literally unable to see in that moment, because I’m so in whatever I’m in. And holding up that mirror to the part of me that is strong, or is doing the best I can in that moment, that’s a gift. And I feel like if the series does nothing else, maybe it models for people to be that mirror to someone. When you see someone, you see the thing that they can’t see in themselves, hold it up for them. Say, “You are doing the best you can, and you are showing up in beautiful ways, and I know it fucking sucks and it’s hard and it’s challenging, but I see you doing that.” And I just want to acknowledge that and say, you did that for me so often, and I think, I know caregivers need that a lot because you’re doing it in a vacuum, often, and isolating, and you don’t have a field of vision that is very big or great. It’s like you’re always in a fog. So that then gave me the strength to go forward. So, the strength was because someone saw my vulnerability, but also you would mirror my strength and I hope I’ve done that for you.

AL: You have. You have. You have. This is one of the great blessings of my life, is that this is my sister, and it both probably is something that we just energetically fit, but we’ve also very much cultivated our relationship, because we fought. Most siblings do, but we fought. But it was when we became adults and I had to be vulnerable to you, that’s what changed our… So, I’m the little… Let’s get here. Let’s get here.

BB: Here we go.

AL: I’m the little sister, and I have little-sister complex, big time. When I grew up, everything I’d ever done, Tembi had already done it first. And there was just this sense of growing up under what, to me, Tembi was like this superstar. People loved her at school. She was class president, she was all this kind of stuff, and I had this feeling of less than or I can’t compete. And so, I withdrew. But something happened in our 20s. No, I think it was 20s.

TL: It was 20s.

AL: We ended up living in the same apartment complex. We ended up living in a fourplex in Los Feliz across the hall from each other.

BB: Shut up.

AL: Yes, so me and my now husband and her and Saro lived across the hall. We’d sometimes leave the doors open. But part of how we could get to a close place is I wrote her a letter one night. I wrote her a letter. I’m being very, very vulnerable now. I wrote her a letter and the first line of it was, I hate you. I hate you for how smart you are, I hate you for how beautiful you are, I hate you for how stylish you are, for how just wonderfully you live your life, and this is how it makes me feel. But I love you, but I have to get this out of me for us to be friends. And I slid it under her door across the hall. And it was literally like our relationship changed on a dime. It has never gone back since, and it opened the door for us to this day to say, “Tembi” or, “Attica; you did something that doesn’t feel good.” And we’ve also, luckily, individually had years of therapy to be able to separate what is a feeling that I had growing up that you didn’t actually do anything to make me feel this way so then I could kind of… We would never gotten through this shoot. How in the world we’d have gotten through this shoot together without therapy. We couldn’t have done it, because the…

BB: There’s no way.

AL: There’s no way.

BB: My sister is laughing so hard.

[laughter]

AL: There’s no way. Because when I got to Florence, I’m just putting it all out there now. When got to…

TL: Uh-oh, here she goes.

AL: When it was time to shoot in Florence, we got to Florence and I turned into who I was at 20. I had just graduated… No, I was 21. Just graduated college when Tembi got married. And when Tembi got married in 1995 in Florence, I showed up there. I’d been in charge of taking care of my grandmother and making sure that she got there safely. I put together packages for people for trips to Venice. We’ve been doing all this. I get there and I was like, “Where is Tembi?” Like, “She’s on the island of Elba. She’s having a holiday.” And I was like, “What is going on?”

[laughter]

AL: I’m pulling an all-nighter last night, putting together these packets for everybody. She’s on an island in… Only Tembi can get us all here to Florence… I was like, “This princess. What?” And I got through that at 21.

TL: Brené.

AL: But that young girl, that young woman showed up again when it was time to film. And I had to go, “Attica, talk to her, but she got to sit down because you got a show to make.” But I’m just being honest that that stuff got stirred up in me. And I wrote about it, I talked to Tembi about it while we were in the hotel in Florence. I said, “I am struggling with this. This is bringing up a lot of old feelings, but I’m trying to make it through. I’m trying to make it through.”

TL: And we were in contract to also put that into the work. We knew, “Okay, we’re not so special that this is only happening to us. This happens.” Right?

[laughter]

TL: If we’re being really honest, and we have to be honest. And I remember when we wrote… There’s the scene when Zora and Amy have the fight. Right? And we kind of…

BB: Because every time I had to give you my lunch money, I didn’t eat.

TL: Thank you, Brené.

BB: Don’t think I don’t know that scene is the older sister.

TL: Thank you. So, we had to… We just went there, because I think the thing that I have learned, and I think the thing that I hope people take away from the series is like, you get to grow up in these relationships if you choose to do that. And if you choose to be vulnerable and say what’s on your mind, you get on the other side of it, and there’s something greater. I had to get on the other side of my in-laws saying they weren’t coming to my wedding and rejecting that we… When you go through that, when you’re vulnerable and you go through that, and people meet you where… And by the way, some people may not want to meet you there, and that’s okay.

BB: Yeah. That’s okay. Yeah, that’s alright.

TL: And you move on. But there’ll be some people who do, and then you get to go to the next stage of your relationship. And Attica and I have had years of practice of seeing how our relationship deepens, including making this show, and including being in Florence when we had to have drinks on the terrace and the Prosecco, because you were like, “How the [pause] did I get to Florence, making a story about my sister’s life, and what is happening? Who hoodwinked me into doing this?”

AL: I did. I sometimes had feelings speaking about saying things out loud, and I had to tell her. I had feelings of like, “Wait a second here. I just told Hello Sunshine about this book. I didn’t know that cut to three years later, this is my whole life. How did I get to turn my life into making Tembi’s story? How did this happen?”

TL: And what I said is, “Attica, we’re making not only my story, but we’re making our story.” And we talked about this, the healing, the healing that we got out of doing this, not just because we both grieved Saro, but we also got to heal as sisters, and a lot of stepping into this new realm together, and supporting each other, being really honest with each other, and seeing like, okay, maybe there’s, what do they call it, sort of productive abrasion that happens. But then it’s like abrasion, if I may use the facial term, the microdermabrasion, when you get it done, your skin is going to look better on the other side. It’s going to look really good.

BB: Yeah, it hurts like a mother while you’re doing it, but yeah, and it is going to heal.

TL: It’s not going to feel good, but it’s going to look good. It’s going to look good.

BB: That is so sister. That is sisters. Yeah. Okay, we’re going to stop here. We’re doing Part 2.

TL: Okay.

BB: You can come back for Part 2, Unlocking Us. I was going to say we’re going to get real, but I think we’re just going to keep being real here. I’m going to talk to them about… [chuckle] The series debuted with over 32 million hours viewed and landed in the top 10 in 74 different countries. We’re going to get their holy shit reaction when we come back for Part 2, so y’all join us for Part 2.

[music]

BB: Alright, just again, y’all need to see From Scratch on Netflix. It’s so good, so well acted, so well written, every emotion. I think it hits all 87 of the Atlas of the Heart emotions. It’s just, it’s so good y’all. You can go to brenebrown.com. You can look up the episode page there. You can get links to their websites, their work, their books, a link to Netflix, which you probably don’t need, but there it is. This is just good stuff. Talking about awkward, brave, and kind, Attica and Tembi, nail that description. Alright, thanks for being here y’all.

[music]

BB: Unlocking Us is a Spotify original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown. It’s produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevado, Carleigh Madden and Tristan McNeil, and by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design by Tristan McNeil and Andy Waites, and music is by the amazing Carrie Rodriguez and the amazing Gina Chavez.

[music}

© 2022 Brené Brown Education and Research Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Brown, B. (Host). (2022, November 2).Brené with Attica Locke and Tembi Locke on Life, Loss, and All Kinds of Love, Part 1 of 2. [Audio podcast episode]. In Unlocking Us with Brené Brown. Parcast Network. https://brenebrown.com/podcast/life-loss-and-all-kinds-of-love-part-1-of-2/