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Mother and daughter duo Tonya and Satchel Lee in an honest and open conversation Transcription

Gucci Podcast Voice:
Hello, and welcome back to the Gucci Podcast. In this episode, we will be hearing from mother and daughter duo, Tonya Lewis Lee, and Satchel Lee as they engage in an honest and open conversation about their quarantine. 25-year-old Satchel is no stranger to podcasts, having launched her own series this year called Release with Satchel Lee, a forum for intimate conversations about relationships, love, heartbreak, and self-discovery. Satchel is a video producer, writer, and photographer, and was previously creative director of the queer fashion and art publication, Drøme. Satchel’s mother Tonya Lewis Lee is a film and television producer, lawyer, and founder of vitamin brand, Movita Organics. She is also an author and advocate for women and children’s health, and she is the wife of Academy award-winning filmmaker, Spike Lee. Listen to the women as they discuss the changes we have lived through in the last few months, what family means to them, and how they have been feeding their creativity during this uncertain time.

Satchel Lee:
Hello everyone. My name is Satchel Lee. I have a podcast called Release with Satchel Lee where I talk to friends about sex, and love, and relationships, and I don’t know, people, intimacy. This isn’t that show, but I’m with my mother, Tonya Lewis Lee, and we’re just going to sit down and talk about what this quarantine, what this year has kind of been like for us. Hello.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Hi. It’s my pleasure, my joy to be here, talking with you, Satchel.

Satchel Lee:
Yes. Yes. I think we should have a good time. So, when I was thinking about how I wanted to organize this, I was trying to put together an intro that would be fun and positive and a engaging way to talk about just what this year has been like. But I think, in truth, it hasn’t really been that fun and positive. I mean, I think for mostly everybody, I think a lot of people feel that way. Although I’ve talked to a lot of people who have said that this time has given them a lot of space to reflect and they feel the best that they’ve felt in a while.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Well, I would say that there are positives that come out of a difficult situation always. Right? And I think that sometimes the situations where we find ourselves the most uncomfortable, having to learn new skills, and adjust to discomfort often are the places where we learn and grow the most. So, positives do come out of dark places.

Satchel Lee:
Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s true. And I think for us, a big part of this year has been very much like… We’ve just been in kind of survival mode, in a way that I don’t think as New Yorkers we’ve had to be for a while, probably since like September 11th. Right? That was like the… I mean, there was what, Sandy? Which didn’t really hit where we lived, that part.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Right. Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting, that comparison to 9/11 because we were here, but then we left the city.

Satchel Lee:
Right.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
So, we were not in the city, but we were certainly feeling it. And when we came back, I mean, we could smell the destruction all the way up here. So, you still did live with it. But different this time is the idea that you have to be isolated from your friends because we really did come together as our friends. Right? We were in pain, we were confused, and so we did seek refuge with each other to get through it without hesitation. In this case, really having to withdraw, go inside, separate from friends, and figure out how to survive sort of on your own or in a new way was different. I guess, we tried to find refuge in each other in Zooms, and I talked a lot on the phone, and FaceTime so we did pivot and adjust.

Satchel Lee:
Absolutely.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
But it was definitely different, and I would say, we were concerned about the food supply, potentially, so really trying to make sure that we had supplies that we needed during corona was certainly different.

Satchel Lee:
Yeah. I mean, I think which is so interesting too, I mean, I think humans are interesting in that we’re very good at creating and setting up things that we feel are normal and stable, but the truth of the matter is that I’m not sure what normal is, and I don’t really think that anything is necessarily stable. Right? It may feel stable, but we can’t see in front of us. Right? We don’t know what’s coming. So, to feel that instability in a very… And I get, right, I think we’re lucky that we don’t feel that very often to feel that instability of like, “Okay, are the grocery stores going to be open? Can we go outside? What’s going on? How big is this? How many people are dying? They’re putting up makeshift morgues in Central Park. What does that mean for how we just are supposed to go about our lives?”

Tonya Lewis Lee:
And it’s amazing because we lived through that.

Satchel Lee:
Right.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
And it did become very normalized very quickly. Right? Like, “Okay.” But you’re right. I think that the ground is always moving underneath us, and yet we do try to set ourselves up for success, I think, as much as we can. I mean, you have to live in the here and now. You’ve got to pay your bills to keep a roof over your head and get food in your belly. But at the same time, you try to plan for the future when maybe you won’t be working. You try anyway, right, potentially. You try to gather your food. You’re like a little squirrel in the fall gathering all your food and stocking it so that, hopefully, if the time comes and you don’t, you’ve got something.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
So, right. As human beings, we are really wired for survival. How do I set myself up for success for my longest survival? And it’s funny because, as you know, part of that for me is also just taking care of my body. Right? Really making sure that I’m as fit and well as I can be, especially in a time like this because again, to your point, you don’t know, am I going to have to use my body to get myself out of this situation? Am I going to have to run 50 miles or walk a hundred miles to get someplace? So, I want to make sure my body’s functioning in that way.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
So, yeah. So, all of that came into play as we were going through our lockdown and who knows? We may have another one coming. But I do think that for all of us to really learn from this, and as you say, it’s never as stable as we think it is, we can set ourselves up for as much success as possible, but always, as your grandfather likes to say, always be flexible and be able to pivot when need be. And so I guess that’s also about being a little open-minded. Right? And curious about what’s happening, trying to keep in tune to what’s going on in the world around you so that you’re prepared for anything, but you also have to have joy.

Satchel Lee:
Absolutely. But I do think the open-mindedness is really important because it’s interesting. I mean, I think a lot of people still are in denial and I don’t know what that is. I don’t understand having such rigid ideas. I don’t-

Tonya Lewis Lee:
About what our existence is supposed to be and what we are entitled to as human beings?

Satchel Lee:
Exactly. Yeah. It’s different now so I understand that’s how you would prefer it. But the fact of the matter is that’s not what the situation is.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Things change and you have to be adaptable, and I think it’s unfortunate. I think, unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who have not had great education, who’ve not had great education for generations. I think sometimes we forget that it’s a real privilege to be able to have had an opportunity to work on one’s critical thinking skills. You think that’s something that just comes naturally, but critical thinking is a muscle that has to get exercised and used.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
And I think what has happened is that a lot of people don’t have that ability to think critically and really assess the situation they’re in so they only take what’s being fed them from the people that they consider their leaders. And so they can only operate based on what somebody tells them, someone who they think is the authority. And when you’re in that kind of situation, it’s very dangerous for you because you can be manipulated and told what to do all the time. So, I think that’s what we’re suffering from.

Satchel Lee:
It’s a bummer.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Yeah. Education is important. Good education is important. And everyone, everyone can learn critical thinking skills if they truly have good education.

Satchel Lee:
Right. It’s just like, who’s going to fix the schools?

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Exactly. And there are those people out there who don’t want people to have critical thinking skills.

Satchel Lee:
Well, right. Otherwise, we’d have better public schools.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
And that’s what they should be doing. But if the people have the ability to think critically, then they won’t buy what their so-called leaders are telling them so then their leaders won’t be in positions of power. So, that’s what we’re up against.

Satchel Lee:
Well, that’s that. I have these fun questions. Are we talking about fashion? I don’t know.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Okay. Let’s try it and see.

Satchel Lee:
Anyway, one of the things I think is, we’re both creatives. I feel like there’ve been… Because we’ve been in the house, we definitely started to open up a little bit more, but it was pretty much like four months straight in the house. How did you maintain your creativity? And did you have like a schedule that helps you stay on track with projects? What was that like?

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Yeah. So, creatively being in lockdown, I did initially completely lose all sense of real sort of focus and direction for a minute. It was very difficult to stay focused, and I’m in the middle of working on a… Co-producing and co-directing a documentary right now. With COVID, it sort of shut things down a little bit and we had to think about how to get creative with our subjects and even thinking about that, it was hard. I mean, I’m very passionate about the documentary, but it was hard for me to be thinking about how to keep going on that for a minute when I was in survival mode, just for us. But what I found was I had a desire to draw and to paint for some reason. It was like a different skill set, a different creative outlet that… I mean, I like to draw. I’m not a good drawer. I’m certainly not a painter. But I did have this desire to allow myself to put something out in that way, which was really great, and it felt really good to be doing that.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
And so, otherwise, I think I was just trying to, and I think sometimes, creatively, it’s important to sort of feel and listen to what’s going on around you, to sort of fill up your well, if you will. And so I think sometimes we are so pressed to be producing work and in moments like what we just went through, I think it was also important to just exist and feel it, absorb it, and then in a way, see what comes out later from it. So, I don’t know. I was cleaning a lot. I was cooking a lot, drawing, and then slowly got drawn back into to my work, and now work is like, it’s really busy again, which is great. And I feel like I am more able and open, and ready to let the work come.

Satchel Lee:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. That makes sense. I think I feel or felt similarly. I don’t know. It’s all a blur kind of, but definitely now, people are starting to work more. Right? So, I see that happening and it feels easier a little bit, I guess because we’re not just kind of like stuck so much. So, I feel like I can produce and put stuff out there. I kind of stopped doing the podcast too at the beginning of quarantine. I think I did like two episodes in quarantine just because I don’t know, it felt weird. I don’t really know. I needed space to just step away and not… I guess what I’m saying too is what I appreciate about the time that everybody was in the house, not at work, is that we don’t really ever get a chance to just like sit and be quiet. You know?

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Exactly.

Satchel Lee:
It’s like you always have to do something. The weekend doesn’t really give you enough time to actually reset and get into a mode of just stillness so I think it was important to just be still and, yeah, I’m not sure.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
And I don’t know if you feel this way, Satchel, but I do feel sometimes in that stillness and quiet is like trying to almost hear in another way or feel a vibration. You know what I mean? Like really getting tuned to what’s happening, and sometimes you need to be quiet in order to do that.

Satchel Lee:
Definitely. In tune to what’s happening and also just what your actual desires are. I’m sure a lot of people were like, “Oh, I hate work.” You know?

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Right.

Satchel Lee:
Like your specific job or whatever. There was a lot of time for reflection. So, to do that and to not worry about producing things or deadlines. Yeah. It’s just good to be quiet. We don’t really ever get time to do that. And I think about other animals. I’m like, “What do animals do all day? They don’t do anything.”

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Yeah. That’s true.

Satchel Lee:
They don’t.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
They sleep.

Satchel Lee:
And they seem fine.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Yeah. Yeah. Out in the wild even, yeah, and they still are able to forage for food, and eat, and find shelter, and…

Satchel Lee:
And their lives seem just as valid as anybody else’s.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Right. Do they survive as long though? I don’t know.

Satchel Lee:
Well, I don’t think so. But that’s okay. Do you find that there are certain rituals or routines that you have that allow you to drop down into a creative space?

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Ever since I was young, the one thing that I do when I’m really getting ready is I have to clean. That’s one ritual. I just really get everything cleaned, organized, sort of open up my space a little bit so that the air feels like it’s flowing properly, not stuck by stuff that’s in the wrong place. And then just getting to the desk, just getting to the desk, setting the chair at the right height and, honestly, I think now for me too, it’s like there was a time where I used to say, “Oh, when I’m really being in a creative mode, I can’t exercise,” but that’s not the case anymore. Working out, just giving myself a half hour or something, and getting my two cups of coffee and my smoothie in, in the morning, and then I’m really ready to do my thing. That’s what really feeds it.

Satchel Lee:
Yeah. Yeah. I think-

Tonya Lewis Lee:
And what about you? Do you have rituals with your work?

Satchel Lee:
I always make my bed. I can’t really do anything unless my bed is made. I burn a lot of stuff in my room too, like Palo Santos, or sage, or incense. Yeah. The summers, I open my windows and stuff like that. I love to have the windows open. Yeah. So just kind of, again, it’s like setting the stage. I mean, even if I just sit on the couch for the rest of the day, I still have to do those things. So, I’m not sure if it’s necessarily a ritual for creative stuff, but that’s definitely a system that I have.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Yeah. Having those kinds of systems in place are great. Just how you set up your day, and I’m similar. I make up my bed. There are certain things that get the day started right and then I know I’m off to the… Whatever.

Satchel Lee:
Right. Just makes it a little bit easier to manage, I feel like.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Yeah, well, if you start your day off somewhat ordered… The other thing I really like to do too, as you know, are my crossword puzzles or my spelling bees. I know, it’s such a nerdy thing, but it’s like brain exercise to me. That’s a way to get my brain moving, like, “Okay. Right. We’re on now.”

Satchel Lee:
Right. I really don’t like trivia though.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Trivia.

Satchel Lee:
I just don’t like being quizzed.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Yeah, well, but you’re good with those spelling bees, though.

Satchel Lee:
Yeah, the spelling bees I can kind of do, but I feel like crossword puzzles are just like trivia.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
In a way, yeah.

Satchel Lee:
Don’t quiz me.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
But that’s what I like about the puzzle because a lot of what I do is puzzle, that they’re like puzzles, like problem-solving, trying to figure it out, looking for a pattern. And so that’s why the crossword puzzle and even the spelling bees are really helpful to me because it’s the same thing. It’s like putting it together, finding the pattern.

Satchel Lee:
Yeah.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Yeah.

Satchel Lee:
Yeah. Yeah. So, you mentioned that you were cooking a lot and you have been cooking a lot during quarantine. What has that done or allowed for you?

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Ah, yes, yes. Well, first of all, I have found a joy in cooking. What I have discovered is that it’s really not that hard if you plan and you have what you need in the house and you just think a little bit ahead of time, it’s really not that hard. I love cooking my own food. I feel like I’m eating better. I know what I’m eating and it’s been really great. I will say, during that time, having dinner with you, and your father, and your brother, just coming together at the table every night, we hadn’t done that since you guys were very little. And so that just was a joy and it feels good to be able to feed the family too, on my own, to be able to cook food and sustain us in a really healthy way.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
It’s really, really great, and I hope to continue doing it. I’m still cooking and I hope to maintain that. And also just like having that space in the day, again, a different creative outlet to… It’s an amazing thing when you… Sometimes, just before cooking, it’s like, “Oh my gosh, how am I going to pull this meal together?” And then you start doing it, and then, all of a sudden, you have a meal done. It’s really kind of amazing. It’s a small accomplishment, but I get joy out of that.

Satchel Lee:
Yeah. Well, and then that’s another thing, right? Just cooking, feeding yourself, that’s so important to do. I feel like being in New York, I don’t know what it’s like in other cities, but I feel like we definitely order delivery more than any other place in the world. I can’t imagine that we don’t.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
And we certainly, as a family, ended up relying on takeout. I don’t know what happened, when that transition happened because I used to cook when you were a little, a little bit and then I stopped doing that, and somehow we got into just takeout because it’s fast and easy and everyone was busy. But, yeah, a lot of people order because it’s easy.

Satchel Lee:
It’s easy. And I guess people don’t have the space too, also for kitchens. I mean, you don’t really need much, I don’t think, but you can cook on a stovetop, a fire top. But, as you know, it’s also a skill I don’t think that it’s really… There a bunch of skills that aren’t taught in school.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Well, see, I had Home Ec. when I was coming up in high school. You had to take-

Satchel Lee:
Did the boys have to take it?

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Yeah. We had to take Home Economics to graduate from high school. You didn’t have that. Spencer, my dear friend, often talks about how he had to take Home Economics, that’s why he cooks so well. I agree with you. That’s a basic skill that you should be able to do.

Satchel Lee:
We had a restaurant management class.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Of course, you did.

Satchel Lee:
The no cookery class.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Golly. These schools, they’re too much. Yeah. Learn how to balance a checkbook and make a meal.

Satchel Lee:
Yeah. I can cook. I can make things, but it’s definitely-

Tonya Lewis Lee:
You can certainly bake too.

Satchel Lee:
Yeah. And I can bake. That’s an important skill that I think has been, again, highlighted during this time, the importance of like, “Okay, what happens if nobody’s delivering? We’re not going to eat.”

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Right. And can you cook for yourself? And having fun with herbs, like with rosemary, and cilantro, and basil. Finding that, like what can you do with real garlic? You don’t just have to use garlic powder. You can use real garlic, things like that, that really bring out flavor and it’s kind of fun and yeah. It’s okay if you mess up sometimes. It happens. It doesn’t mean that you can’t try again.

Satchel Lee:
Yeah. I’m excited to continue my cooking journey after this craziness. So, while we were in quarantine, obviously, the death of George Floyd triggered the Black Lives Matter movement protests all across the country. What has that been like to watch all of that happen?

Tonya Lewis Lee:
It’s been amazing, actually, to see all of these people come out. I mean, wow. What a time we have been through from COVID to the protests. I mean, I just, as you’re saying that, just thinking about hearing the protestors coming up the street and what that all has been and the energy of all of the people of all different races and backgrounds coming out to finally stand up and say, “Hold on a second, that’s a human rights violation that’s happening. That’s wrong. And as human beings who care about the future of the human race, we cannot stand for that anymore,” has been amazing. Watching some of the Confederate statues coming down, the Confederate flag coming off of the Mississippi state flag, I mean, it feels like there is real change in the air.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
I mean, but then the idea that John Lewis just died. I mean, it feels like it’s a time of real change happening in every way for us as Americans, certainly. And I know it’s a global thing, but it does feel like, certainly, here in America at home, that real change is afoot. Now, what does that mean really for the future, right? Is this just a moment or is it going to really be lasting? And I think that we’re about to head into an election which is going to be really the answer. Right? Is this a moment or is it really something sustaining?

Tonya Lewis Lee:
We’ve still come a really long way. Right? I mean, as a nation and a people, and we’ve made progress, and we’ve slid backwards. I mean, we know. Our ancestors were brought over here in the bottom of boats, forced into labor, and here you and I are, and we are where we are because of the work of a lot of people. And I think, yes, we still have a long way to go. But, for me sitting here, at my age and my generation and to see what’s happening in this moment right now, I’m seeing signs of significant movement in a way, at least symbolically. Now, that’s what I mean, what happens really is the question.

Satchel Lee:
How do we achieve or how do you think we might achieve actionable change?

Tonya Lewis Lee:
I think it starts with leadership from the people, which again, which is why it’s great to see all of these people out in the streets protesting and to see the leaders of Black Lives Matter emerge. I think it’s important. Leadership matters. We need that leadership. Hollywood has an impact. The images that we see coming out of media, and I’m seeing evolution in that too, what’s on and whose voices are being heard. So, as more diverse voices are able to share their varied, and vast, and interesting experiences, that opens people’s minds as well. I’m grateful to our street documentarians, like the young woman who captured George Floyd’s murder. They need to keep doing what they’re doing because, without them, these things don’t get to the forefront. So, I think the way we see actual change, all hands on deck.

Satchel Lee:
Yeah.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
What you do, Satchel, with your platform, your voice, big or small, it matters. Sometimes it’s heavy because sometimes you just want to have fun and I don’t want to think about all these issues. Behind all the work that you do has to be the thought about how am I contributing to pushing it forward.

Satchel Lee:
During this time, what have you taken away?

Tonya Lewis Lee:
From this time? From this time of being in quarantine, what lessons have I learned?

Satchel Lee:
Yes.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Well, I would say that what I knew before, but very clear on now that if I’m in a pinch or I’m in a survival mode, Satchel’s my partner, my ride or die. I know that. I know who I can really count on. That’s amazing. And it’s amazing to know that about you. It’s amazing to know that about myself. I can take care of myself. I can handle myself. I guess the thing now is to really just think about how to keep moving good, positive energy forward so the next generation inherits a planet that is sustainable for them.

Satchel Lee:
Right. I feel similarly that this has just been a good time to tap into just gratitude because it was a bad situation, but it could have been so much worse.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
And we’re lucky. I mean, we didn’t have any family that… I mean, we know people who died, but you know.

Satchel Lee:
Yeah. No, but we’re extremely lucky. And like you said, blessed, and that’s something to always think about and like you said, right, essential workers, everybody in the grocery stores, and the pharmacies. Subway was still running. People who were doing that, it just…

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Exactly. Sanitation.

Satchel Lee:
Sanitation, everything. That’s massive.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Yeah.

Satchel Lee:
So, very grateful. Cool. Well, I think we talked about a bunch of stuff. Was there anything else?

Tonya Lewis Lee:
No, not that I can think of. This was our white table talk.

Satchel Lee:
Right. Exactly. Yeah. A little bit different.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Yes. A little different.

Satchel Lee:
Cool. Okay. Well, thank you so much for sitting down with me at the table.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
So fun talking to you, Satchel.

Satchel Lee:
Yes, yes, yes.

Tonya Lewis Lee:
Thanks Gucci.

Gucci Podcast Voice:
Thank you for listening to this episode of the Gucci podcast, featuring Satchel Lee and her mother, Tonya Lewis Lee. Find out more about their creative work in the episode notes.

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