Casey & Steven
Photography by Ali Francis
Both writers at heart Casey Scieszka and her husband, illustrator, Steve Weinberg, left Brooklyn to live in the Catskills and open up Spruceton Inn. The two have traveled the world and are continuing to live the dream.
CASEY: One of my favorite things to do out here is when, I'll be answering e-mails, doing insurance stuff or something, and Steven will call down the hall and say, “Do you want to walk to the waterfall in 15 minutes?” Yes. Yes I do.
STEVEN: So maybe we are living the dream.
Meeting in Morocco
STEVEN: It was a normal day at the Casablanca International Airport.
CASEY: I was hanging back. I was keeping my cards close to my chest.
STEVEN: You were the one in your brother's giant T-shirt, looking bad ass, not talking to anybody.
CASEY: I will explain why I was wearing my brother's giant T-shirt, which was simply that I wanted to dress modestly in a Muslim country. I wasn't quite sure what to pack. It was a weird way to meet people.
STEVEN: It was like a 25-person program for studying abroad. We lived with Muslim host families and dated like middle schoolers.
CASEY: We started out as friends, and then one day I realized I was laughing much harder and longer at his jokes than anyone else was. And I was like, “Oh, shit!”
STEVEN: Then we decided, “Well, I really like you. Let's do this. Let's move to China together after we graduate.” That's a sensible thing to do, right?
CASEY: We both realized we wanted the same thing. We both wanted to live abroad and we said, “Fuck it. Let's do it, and if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out." As crazy as people thought we were, nobody was truly worried. They thought, “Well, whatever. I mean, these guys met in Morocco.”
STEVEN: And then you have every person who is over 60, and they're telling you, “Go! Do this! I'm stuck in my house.” We didn't have a 15-year plan. I don't remember any elephants in the room. We were always just taking the next step. After living in China, I said, “Okay, we're going to Mali."
We both realized we wanted the same thing.
STEVEN: I was walking on Seventh Avenue, and I saw a couple of letters in a window in a reflection, it said love, I thought, “That's really random,” I don't usually see signs like that. It hit me, “I love Casey. I should tell her.”
STEVEN: Living in the middle of nowhere, you're so many roles for that other person, you are their best friend and third, fourth friend, you've got to play all those roles together.
CASEY: You're family. You're everything. That was an intense thing to experience as a couple, and as young people. Living in Timbuktu, having to be someone's everything, when it's 125 degrees. You know, when someone is borderline deathly ill and they're sweating it out and can't keep it in in either end, it's autopilot, “I love you. It's okay. Whatever you need right now.”
CASEY: Even though we've done unconventional things, we very much thought them through. We very much thought through moving to Beijing. We shared an apartment but got jobs that we knew we could keep or quit if we broke up. We had those awkward conversations, “What will you do if this doesn't work out?” So our family and friends who were initially mystified knew that we weren't running blind. We wrote this totally fictional graphic novel that took place in Timbuktu that we sent to a literary agent with a cover letter about how we had wound up there. The guy wrote back, “Nobody will read your book, but your cover letter ... what on earth are you doing in Timbuktu, have you ever thought about writing a memoir?”
STEVEN: We started collaborating on and making funny things together, I'd do paintings, and Casey would write on them. When we were fully collaborating, my Dad commented, “Well, what happens if you guys break up? You need to have this in the contracts.” It seemed pretty nuts but we said, “This is a great opportunity."
CASEY: We went ahead, took a stab at telling eight random stories that I wrote and Steven illustrated, sent it back to the literary agent, and then the book was sold.
We had those awkward conversations.
STEVEN: We had pretended to be married in a bunch of places before, in Morocco, in Mali, it was not an uncomfortable topic.
CASEY: Friends would always mention to us, “Oh, man. We can't wait until your wedding! You guys are going to throw such a good party!” I think we both got really stressed out by the idea of spending money on something like that, it just wasn't the type of thing we wanted to do. After looking at some Brooklyn locations, because for a while, we were considering opening a bar in Brooklyn as a stepping stone to something else.
STEVEN: We were like, “This is crazy.”
CASEY: We were sitting on the couch, and Steven asked, “Do you want to elope with me?” I couldn't quite tell if he meant in general or like now?
STEVEN: You had a good long pause, and I was like, “Fuck!”
CASEY: I paused long enough to see that he was nervous, then realized, “Oh, he means now.” I of course responded, “Yeah, yeah I do!” Steven thought we lived in Vegas and that we could put on our shoes and go right then.
STEVEN: I didn't know. As it turns out, you go to the courthouse.
CASEY: We went the next day to go get our certificate, then we had to wait a couple of days. We were practical and waited until my day off. We didn't tell anyone.
CASEY: While doing graphic design I realized it didn't feel like enough for me. I really missed being around other people. I really wanted to build something. When we were living in Morocco I thought about renovating, buying an old riad and renovating it, turning into a guest house for part of the year, travel, interior design, hosting people. The idea stuck. It was a light bulb moment some terrible January night when I got back some edits on this young adult novel I'd been working on that had taken eight months to get the edits back, and I was just like, “This is not enough.”
STEVEN: It was such an obvious moment.
CASEY: Steven was very much like, “You can. You totally can.” Which was a strange thing to realize. I thought I was supposed to be living the dream. I was living in Brooklyn. My friends and family were near. Steven and I were working together.
STEVEN: You had the room too, we have always struggled to have enough space to each create where we live, I'm aggressive, as an artist I have physical materials, I'm pretty messy, too, so we finally, in Brooklyn, we lived at this great rent-stabilized place where you totally had your own room.
CASEY: But it turns out I'm not Virginia Wolfe. It was not all I needed.
I thought I was supposed to be living the dream. I was living in Brooklyn. My friends and family were near. Steven and I were working together.
CASEY: Then, it was Steven's idea, I started putting together a business plan, and I worked at a hotel for a year.
STEVEN: This was the first time we both weren't freelancing.
CASEY: After one year, I quit. I had kind of plateaued within that company and had kind of gotten what I needed from it, and we went to Greece.
STEVEN: We wanted to hit the road again and we had just gotten married.
CASEY: A lot of people come here and are like, “You're living the dream,” basically saying, “You've made it. This is it. Now you have babies and you stay here forever, and you get buried in the backyard when you're 90.” I'm standing there thinking, “Whoa!” That's not how I feel, and it's a hard thing to say without sounding like you can never commit to anywhere. I want to say, “I'm loving it right now. I don't know how long I'll be here.” If you'd told me 5 years ago that this was what we'd be doing, I would've been shocked. I hope that 5 years from now there'll be an element that surprises me too.
STEVEN: You have to talk the fears out. We're really compulsive about that. We always have a crazy next idea that we're really excited about and letting ourselves go deep into, whether it's looking at other real estate or a new business venture. You've got to go into stuff and talk about it.
CASEY: Have that verbal fantasy. Talk about it all the way to the end. Get obsessed with it.
STEVEN: Let it burn out. Because if it's going to burn out, it's going to burn out, but if it doesn't, then, you know it's going to grow into something real.
You've got to go into stuff and talk about it.
CASEY: Steven asked me, “So what are you most scared about, coming back to America, now that you're done with the hotel, and you have to basically start pitching investors or really looking for places,” at this point we were still thinking about Brooklyn, I responded, “I'm afraid that I'll be a revolving door for clients that don't excite me and that I'll just be a bed, like people aren't going to come and really retreat into this place. I would so much rather be a temporary home for somebody.” We had just stayed in a place that kind of felt like that, and Steven, he actually stood up and said, “Hear me out. I have a crazy idea. What about we do it in the Catskills?” It was total light bulb, and it came from a really uncomfortable, vulnerable question. But one that I really needed to answer and that I hadn't said out loud.
STEVEN: I think it created a much more fun lifestyle for us, in every way. It's hard to not make having fun in New York City revolve around eating, drinking, spending money. Our friends come up for the weekend and we realize we see more of them than we ever did, we'll see them for a whole weekend and not just one night out.
CASEY: You have a longer, deeper time, so rather than buying each other a couple of rounds at a bar, you share coffee, you go on a walk, we grill out all afternoon, you have a bonfire, we talk. People get adorably tender and confessional around a fire.
It was total light bulb, and it came from a really uncomfortable, vulnerable question. But one that I really needed to answer and that I hadn't said out loud.
CASEY: We had to think more far ahead with this than we ever had before, which was intimidating, but I really saw it as ultimately liberating because I was unhappy doing what I was doing. I looked at that life, that if we continued doing it, what would it look like down the road and even the good version of it was not exciting to me, so I felt a fire under my ass.
STEVEN: We hit a certain ceiling. When you're in the city you can easily find yourself saying, “Oh, crap, we need to make more money." We needed to do a big push in order to not stay on that plateau.
CASEY: The hotel was the direction for me, and deeper into the kids' book world was for Steven. Then once we could focus our energies, it didn't feel like a choice, or that we were leaving something else behind. It felt like the very clear way. I didn't realize how often I was comparing myself to other people in the city. Unconsciously. Out here, it's so much easier to march to the beat of your own drum when you just can't hear anyone else's fucking drum. Because nobody else is out here! There's certain things for example, living in Morocco or Mali, where people are a little more religiously conservative than you are in the city, and people drop by unannounced for tea or coffee. We needed a change. Maybe we'll live there again one day and be inspired because we have new eyes, but who we were at that point in time, it wasn't right for us.
We needed a change.
STEVEN: But you're also really good about, if you don't want to do something, you won't do it. It sounds like you're procrastinating, but I feel like you're sitting on the idea.
CASEY: I trust my intuition. Listen to your gut and put your ducks in a row.