Eve Crusto: Find Your Happy, Cultivate It and Don’t Feel Guilty About It

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Eve Crusto has been a fashion model, middle school teacher, cheerleading coach, ballet dancer, horseback rider, jazz singer, T-shirt designer, play producer, and writer.  She is still a writer.  BA: Mount Holyoke College.  MFA: New York University.  MRS: Senibo Myers.  She now lives in California, but New Orleans lives in her.

I don’t have as many opportunities to talk to people in LA versus New York. You’ve experienced both, so how are they different?

As a writer, I think it’s the same because it’s still just me. Unless I’m producing, it’s just me writing something. In that sense, nothing’s changed, but my goals have changed. I was in New York for graduate school, but because it was New York, I felt more of a responsibility to be a playwright. Now that I’m in LA, my world has expanded in a way that I’m not prepared for yet.

I still love playwriting but I’m also fully aware of the TV and film industry here, so it makes me want to pursue those more. I’m still trying to balance how to do that; I think it’s hard to pursue all three at once.

I have the same problem. Whenever I’m starting my next project, I have to think, “Do I want this to be a screenplay? Do I see it on stage? Should it be a pilot?” When you go through that, do you follow certain steps to determine the appropriate medium?

I think that’s what I’m struggling with right now. I’m trying to break into TV drama writing, so I’m trying to force myself to find ideas for pilots. But the way I operate is when I get an idea, I almost always know if it’s going to be best as a screenplay, play or pilot. I’m hoping to develop the skill where I can take any idea and shape it into what medium I want it to be. [Pause] But I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to force an idea into a certain medium. Something NYU Professor Carol Rocamora taught us is form dictates content and content dictates form. And it is completely true! If you force an idea to be something, it might not work.  What you are trying to say is just as important as how you say it.

People don’t know this, but you actually landed in my very first post. I remember the lobster dinner we had during Restaurant Week where we had talked.

It was so good!

So how’s writing going for you? [Laughs] This is good because you can tell your version of this story.

It was so funny. I remember reading [the post] and having this out-of-body experience. “Oh, Robert knows someone else that has my problem. Oh, maybe I’m the one he’s talking about!” It felt like validation though. When we had talked about it, I knew you were concerned when I said I could only write when I was angry. I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

It’s not just feeling angry, which is my main emotion when I write, but it’s feeling this passion for certain issues. I’m an emotional writer.  If I’m writing comedy, I can write it from any kind of emotion. But if I’m writing something that’s very personal, then it’s usually because I’m feeling that way at the time.

I also think it’s hard to go back and edit if whatever I was feeling has subsided. I usually have a different drive when I’m editing because the emotions are tampered down. It’s something I’m learning how to do and I think it takes discipline. I have to give myself timelines and deadlines. I know you’re really good at that and I really admire you for that.

It’s funny you say that. Since we last spoke, I’ve gone to the other end. It’s been a while since I’ve sat down and finished a draft of something, and I have so much guilt about it.

Why would you feel guilty?

I feel guilty about doing “Self-Care With Writers.” But it honestly got to a point where I couldn’t stop thinking about it and was losing sleep over it. I felt the same compulsion as when a story idea hits me. I’m also someone who has switched life goals. I played piano for ten years. So am I going to be the person who just jumps around all my life? Is this me following my true purpose in life, or is it because of writer’s block and fear and insecurity?

Sorry, I have to jump in. I really hope you don’t continue to feel that way. Being a pianist takes incredible skill and creative talent. The same goes with writing, interviewing people and doing your blog. You’re still crafting and being creative. To me it’s the same muscle, so I really urge you to not feel guilty.

When I was wedding planning earlier this year, I wasn’t writing at all, and I felt guilty as well. I thought, “I should be writing. I shouldn’t be so excited about dresses and decorations.” But I realized later that it’s still my creative outlet. I enjoy designing and I enjoy writing. Something that I’ve noticed after I got [to LA] is I haven’t sung in a very long time, and I used to do that all the time. It’s another creative outlet and all of these things are connected. You’re still doing it. You shouldn’t feel bad that it isn’t the thing you spent thousands of dollars going to school for.

Right?! [Laughs]

I think it’s why we all feel guilty. It’s because we all feel this enormous burden. We say to ourselves, “I’m going to be this.” So if you have a day where you’re not doing the writer thing, you feel bad about it. It’s all connected; it’s all I can say. We should all give ourselves a break and allow ourselves to be who we are, and we are creative beings.

I completely agree with you. It takes a lot of work and practice to get to a place of grace for myself. The stuff I’m currently focused on is meaningful to me because it connects with people, and that’s exactly what I’ve always wanted to achieve as a storyteller, a musician, or whatever else I’ve done.

I love that you say that. To me, that’s really what being creative is [about]. You play piano to connect with people; you write to connect with people. And it’s also to connect with yourself. When I was little I used to think that artists had to be selfish. [Laughs] They had to have pictures of themselves everywhere and always talk about themselves. But I think understanding yourself is healthy, talking about your feelings and writing through your feelings is healthy. Being an artist is connecting you to yourself, and to others. I think it’s both.

It’s like you’re interviewing me, Eve. What’s going on? [Laughs]

Sorry! [Laughs]

Getting back to you and your process as a writer, because you’re someone who’s driven by emotions and social issues, what does that mean as far as your self-care? What’s tough about it for you?

[Pause] I’m trying to learn more about myself. I’m trying to look back before graduate school at all the things that made me happy. I am learning that I have to try to recreate happiness a little bit for myself.

I really need my alone time. I need time to be quiet and time to think a lot to myself. I need more time to write in a journal where no one will see it. I used to hide it under my bed when I was little. [Laughs] So it’s things like that which I’ve always done, that I need to do again. When I lived in New Orleans, I belonged to three different choirs, I sang in church, I walked in fashion shows, I produced theatre with my students. I had a lot of outlets and I’m realizing I need that [again] so that writing can just be another outlet. I want to be constantly creating so I don’t put too much pressure on one area.

It’s like I’m relearning this and I don’t know why. Maybe being in school for so long, I had to focus on one thing, and I forgot I need those other things to stay sane. I’m relearning how to be sane, which is so weird. I’m old now; I’m supposed to know how to do that.

Oh my God, old? Please! [Laughs]

[Laughs] Okay, old-er!  You have all these experiences and you’d think you would know how to take care of yourself by now. But it’s a constant learning process. You have to figure it out again if you move or when you have a new relationship. There are so many factors, but you have to remember the things that make you happy. I’m learning to let myself need those things. Before, I was trying to say, “I’m a strong person. I can do all this stuff and happiness is secondary.”

Maybe that’s part of getting older too. You realize happiness is hard to find and you have to cultivate it and protect it. Make sure your happiness belongs to you.

Why do you think you went through that period of feeling creatively stifled and what helped you get out of it?

I think it was a combination of things. I was in New Orleans before I moved to New York and it was where I was most happy. When I moved, I lost my church, my choirs, and my family who was there. So moving away was a little jarring, but what made it okay was finding a community of people I connected with at Tisch. Also, I was very surrounded by the work. Graduate school was like being a writer on steroids, so that made it so I didn’t have to think about a lot of the stuff that I’d lost.

It was hard when I left school. I didn’t have all that drive in order to finish all the work, but I also didn’t have all the things in New Orleans. I didn’t realize I had to create it myself; I didn’t know I needed all those things. You need those things to sustain yourself throughout the rest of your writing career.

You grew up going to church and a religious community, and not everyone has experienced that. Was it just ingrained into you; what was it like?

I mostly grew up in St. Louis and we didn’t have a lot of family there. I feel like my mother brought us to church because that’s how she grew up and she knew we needed it. It was tradition. In New Orleans, the Catholic community is very vibrant, so it’s more than something you just “do.”

Beyond the structure of religion, it’s always been spiritual for me. It has influenced how I write as well. It’s always about the voices I hear and ancestors that I think about. The word “spiritual” has the word “ritual” within it. I think those things – who you are and where you’ve been spiritually – are passed down through tradition, rituals, so the repetitiveness of it gives me comfort. It’s something the people related to me did before me, so I feel connected to them in doing that. That’s what religion is to me.

It makes me feel connected to the greater whole.

One thing you got out of NYU which you probably didn’t plan on was meeting Senibo?

[Laughs] I always say I got my MRS degree at NYU.

[Laughs] I’ve always been interested in this. As you were perhaps going through the difficult process of creative and personal discovery, there was this other part of your life that was blossoming. We’re taught that everything in life goes up and down and everything culminates in this neatly wrapped ending. So, was it trippy to experience life when one aspect of it was somewhat difficult, while the other was incredibly joyous?

Good question. Being at school, I liked feeling busy and doing five million things at once. So I think because of that heightened awareness (or feeling like I was at the right place), I think it was meant to be that we met each other there. We were not concerned with meeting anybody, but because we both chose this path of being writers, we found our people. I think when you take charge of your life like that, good things follow. We were both happy; we were both doing what we wanted to do.

Are there challenges to dating another writer?

Actually, I was worried about that before we officially started dating, but I love it.  I can’t imagine it any other way. Having someone who understands what you’re going through helps. If I’m writing something, I want him to read it. He’s someone I feel so close to that I feel comfortable having him see my work when it’s fresh and new. I want him to think it’s good but I also want him to be honest with me. He won’t bullshit me. I think that’s hard to find when you’re a writer.

Also, we’ve written things together. That’s really fun too, to have the energy bounce back and forth between the two of us. I think we’re going to write more stuff together in the future, just because it’s exciting. It’s like a television writer’s room in that sense.

Writer’s room with benefits. [Laughs] Now that you’re starting a new chapter in your life, what are things in terms of self-care that you want to work on?

I want to work on being able to work on a piece of writing, and not necessarily feel the same emotions as when I first wrote it, but still be able to effectively add to it and edit it. When I first get an idea, I get really excited and I do whatever I need to get it down. If it’s 3:00 a.m., I’m going to write it down. If I’m in the middle of work, I’ll find a napkin or old receipt and write it down. My new goal is to maybe not duplicate that sense of urgency, but to be more structured about it. Even though I may not be feeling the impulse right now, I need to be able to go back and edit.

As a parallel, I need to be better at disciplining myself in life. I need to make time and let myself do things that make me happy, and be okay doing that, even if it isn’t writing. I need to make time for both.

What would you say to someone who’s really struggling to take care of themselves?

[Pause] I wish I knew. What makes people happy is so different. I think that’s what makes it heartbreaking when you see another writer struggle. You want to rally around them and be able to say, “It’ll pass. You’ll find something.” But in terms of what that is, you really have to let them run their course. I do think journaling helps. Writing down your thoughts and finding your voice, it’s a way of letting things go. But find a way to let it out. Maybe it’s running; maybe it’s watching TV. Convert that energy somehow.

Anything else you want to add?
Find your happy, cultivate it and don’t feel guilty about it.

 

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