Allison Trowbridge, TWENTY-TWO

Allison Trowbridge, TWENTY-TWO

Zibby is joined by the founder and CEO of Copper Books, Allison Trowbridge, to discuss her new company and her book, Twenty-Two: Letters to a Young Woman Searching for Meaning. The two talk about the experiences Allison and her family went through that inspired her to write an epistolary memoir to a fictional friend and how her struggles have inspired her to make positive changes in the world. Allison also shares why she started Copper Books as a social media platform dedicated to authors and readers. Download it on the App Store today to find live events, book discussions, and so much more!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Allie. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss your book and our mutual lucky number, Twenty-Two: Letters to a Young Woman Searching for Meaning.

Allison Trowbridge: Twenty-two! Zibby, I’m so thrilled we’re doing this. Any excuse to get to spend time with you is a huge win for me. We really do share the same lucky number.

Zibby: Amazing. Hence, our table at the restaurant, table forty-four, double twenty-two.

Allison: Exactly. We got double twenty-two. We’re the double twenty-two.

Zibby: In your book, then there’s actually a sad reason at the end of why it’s called Twenty-Two and what happens at age twenty-two. Oh, my gosh, it gave me the chills. It was so good. It’s so funny. I’m just going to say this even though we’re on a podcast. I feel like we’ve become friendly and gotten to know each other. This is a deep dive into you. I’m like, oh, my gosh, she is just as nice as she appears. When you see into someone’s soul — all my instincts about you were right. It’s so nice to see it literally in print that you are really this awesome, special person deep down to your core. It’s really exciting.

Allison: Zibby, thank you. It just means the world to me that you read the book. I’m so grateful.

Zibby: Not to mention, by the way, you’re such a good writer. I circled so many phrases and sentences. I’ve been thinking about a lot of these things. I’m going to read a bunch of the stuff, even some of the quotes from other people that I didn’t even know. I’m going to jump into it. Before I do that, I want you to explain to listeners what Twenty-Two is about. I’m going to let you talk about Copper Books, which we’re both so excited about and you’re doing such a great job leading. By the way, knowing what you’re doing now and everything and hearing how you felt about it when you wrote this was so cool. Allie, what’s your book about?

Allison: I love it so much. This is such a meta conversation on so many levels. Twenty-Two is the book that, honestly, I wished I had when I was in my early twenties. When I was graduating from college, I pulled an all-nighter with one of my best friends, one of those looking at the stars, processing the meaning of life. Back then, I said, I wish there was a book that spoke to this season of transition and gave that mentorship and guidance. Life has been charted and planned for us year on year. Suddenly, we’re launching off the edge of a cliff. There’s no playbook anymore. At the time, I said, whatever I do career-wise, someday, I know I have to write that book. It sat with me for seven years. I kept saying, at the right time, I know I have to write that book.

Zibby: Did you always know you wanted to do it as a letter to Ash? Ash is totally fictious, right?

Allison: She is, yeah. That was actually — I was jetlagged on a business trip. I woke up at five AM. It was before the sun rose. I sat up in bed in London. It was like I suddenly saw how the book was going to work. I had thought that I was going write something that was a little more prescriptive. Here’s the guidance and the life advice. It was just this flood of, oh, my gosh, I see it. It has to be a relationship. We don’t learn through being told. We learn through story. That’s where I realized I need to be writing to a character as she’s going through college. There’s twenty-two letters in total because there’s one every other month. Then you don’t read her response because I wanted the reader to feel like it was written to them and that whoever you are reading the book, that you’re almost inserting yourself into the story and becoming the main character.

Zibby: Amazing, but it is still you. All the things that you share are not fictious at all?

Allison: Correct. That is all very, very true to life. I was militant about making sure everything was correct, and timing and all of it.

Zibby: Wow. I liked how you divided, too, by freshman, sophomore, junior, into the seasons of life and how we just kept going along for this ride. There was one thing that I literally have not stopped thinking about. This was towards the beginning. It was the body talk section. You were talking to Ash, but this is basically you saying about your own relationship with your body. You said in there, you said — can I just read this? Is that okay?

Allison: Yeah, please.

Zibby: “I love my body and I resent my body all at once. It’s the border between my soul and the world. It keeps me both protected and trapped. It defines me, confines me. It empowers me, devours me. It has limits. It breaks down. It allows me to dance in the redwoods and to jump into waves and to paint. My mind cannot control or shape my body’s natural form. It grows and ages outside my command, programmed by some preordered DNA that nothing can override, and yet it’s mine and no one else’s. It’s the only one I’ve got and the only one I’ll ever have, this side of heaven at least.” You go on to say, “I can’t take my body back, but I can tend to it. My mind is a gardener to this wild, messy, beautiful plot of land we call our being. I can feed it and care for it and even decorate it, and that’s really half the fun, the decoration, but so many young women, myself included, focus too much energy on trying to look like someone else when all we can and should be is the healthiest, most vibrant versions of the physical selves we’ve been given.” Then at the end of this passage, you say, “I suppose that’s part of the wonder of bodies, their absolute, undeniable frailty. One day, they will up and quit, and there’s nothing we can do when that final moment comes. We can spend our whole lives running from a certain end or we can welcome it, for the promise of an end is the very thing that proves we are alive.” So good. It’s soulful and beautiful. It’s true. We’re just in the shrink-wrap versions of ourselves.

Allison: Totally. When you step outside of yourself in that way, you can be gentle with yourself. We can stop being so hard — I almost see our souls as, we’re here to tend to these bodies that we’ve been given. Then it’s like, how do I take care of Allie well? How do you take care of Zibby well? What does it look like for Zibby to flourish? What does Zibby at her best feel like? Then how do we care and tend towards that? There’s this quote in the book that I reference in that chapter that says that only the things that are alive, the very nature of them having an ending is what makes them beautiful, and that’s why we’re unmoved by artificial flowers. I’m like, oh, my gosh, it’s so true. This is why I spend a fortune decorating the house with flowers every week even though they’ll die. It’s because it’s the aliveness and the limited nature of something’s aliveness that makes it so spectacular.

Zibby: Unbelievable. I love it. You have this whole thing about comparing yourself to other people. You said, “Spending your days trying to be someone else is like being an actor who only ever auditions to play the understudy. You may have a moment to shine, but likely not. If the understudy is your only aspiration, you’ll probably spend your whole career rehearsing for the mirror, and you, my darling, are a leading lady.” I love it. I’m telling you, I have a thousand of these. I can’t spend the whole podcast talking about it. The way you reframe life is just so cool, even the way you talked about depression. “I felt something I had never experienced in my short life, depression. My body was so heavy, my mind so dull that it took everything in me to climb out of bed in the morning or at noon. I had moved into a new house with girls I liked a lot but didn’t know well, and I slid into a sticky, bitter lump of loneliness.” Beautiful.

Allison: It’s so interesting, Zibby, because I wrote that book in a season where I was in a pretty dark place. That just was how it worked out, timing of getting the book deal. Because I was in such a difficult, heavy season, it actually allowed me to tap into places of creativity and expression that I think aren’t available to us when life is just thriving and going great. I always feel like that’s kind of the invitation of difficult seasons of life. How does it allow you to open doors that you wouldn’t otherwise open in yourself?

Zibby: Interesting. You included a lot about the sexual abuse of your mother, which I don’t think I can remember reading too much about from anyone else. I’m trying to think now. I’m sorry if I just offended an author who that happened to them as well. Regardless, you talk about a scene where your mom, in middle school, was invited to a friend’s house. Do you want to tell it?

Allison: Yeah. She was fourteen. Some of the cool girls invited her to come over after school and then told her to go out into the backyard. There was another one of her classmates waiting out in a shed out there and raped her. Then that happened again. She was date raped in college as well. She told me that story when I was that same age. It just left an indelible mark on me and actually was the — I spent a decade of my early career working in anti-trafficking. It really stemmed from that, of feeling incapable of caring for my mom or having — there was no way that I could have protected her. Because I couldn’t, it was like, how can I use that pain in our family to do some good on the most extreme version of that? I saw that as being actual sexual trafficking and further abuse. It was really part of my career origin story, was her telling me that at a young age.

Zibby: When you asked her what would’ve happened if she had gotten pregnant, she said she would’ve killed herself. Then I think about everything that’s going on today with restrictions on abortion and all of this stuff. It’s crazy. The impact that makes — go ahead.

Allison: I was just going to say it was interesting, too, because I wrote that section of the book on a writing retreat. I wrote it, and then I was like, this is too heavy. This is too much. I’m sure my editor will cut this. Then the editor was like, “I think we should keep it.” It was a really meaningful moment to share it with my mom and say, “This is your story to tell. It’s not my story. Do you want me to take this out? Do you want me to change — I can just refer to a general family member. I want you to have full agency over this.” She sat with it and was like, “If it helps one other person, I want you to tell the story.” It took a lot of courage for her to tell that and to share her story through the book. I’m just so proud of her because I think it’s a huge act of courage to share something so deeply, deeply personal.

Zibby: Did anything happen as a result? I know this book came out a little bit ago. Did she get any feedback or responses, or did you, about that piece of it? Did it change her life in any way having it out there?

Allison: I think it was, honestly, hard for her because there were many people in her life who didn’t know that that had happened to her. When she told me, she’d only told me and my dad. Nobody knew. The power of speaking the unspeakable is that it creates an opportunity for other people who’ve experienced horrific acts or traumas to be able to start speaking their own pain and healing as a result of that. Then we start bringing those things out into the light, which is where all of the healing takes place. It’s been neat to see in the last couple years, there’s been this cultural moment of speaking these things that have happened. That’s been an encouragement to me, to see it be less stigmatized as well.

Zibby: You had a beautiful quote from Maya Angelou. Do you remember? It was something like — I think it was Maya Angelou, where she said something weighs on your soul when you keep it in as a secret, or something, or the only act or — do you know what I’m talking about? I’ll find it.

Allison: No.

Zibby: I dogeared it. I’ll find it again. No, Zibby, you totally butchered that. I have no idea what you’re even talking about. I’ll keep flipping. I might not be able to find it right this second, but I’m getting there. In the book, you talk about your brother being really sick and the impact of that. It happened twice, once when he was younger, and nobody could figure out why, and then again when he was older. He went through another season where you felt very helpless. Luckily, through some random drug that was a side effect or something, he was cured. Tell me more about him and how that all affected you and how he is now.

Allison: Gosh, it was pretty wild. He was in his senior year of high school. I was in college. There was a point where it got so bad that I got a phone call from my parents, and they said, “You’re going to have to come home to say goodbye. Tell your teachers you’re going to miss finals.” He was basically starving to death. He had a virus that had caused his small intestine to just shut down, and so he actually couldn’t eat or consume food. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong or what was causing it. It was one doctor who took an interest in his case and didn’t give up on him. So many other doctors had kind of just shrugged and said, “We don’t know. Maybe it’s an emotional thing. Tell him to eat,” kind of thing. My mom really, really fought and advocated for him through that. That one doctor who realized what was happening and found a drug that had a — it was an antidepressant that had a side effect that it relaxed the small intestine. I have no idea how they’d even figure out that that’s a side effect for something. I’m like, how would you know? He gave it to him. A day later, Adam was out of the hospital and on the healing journey. Because of that, he graduated high school early, went overseas to the Middle East with my cousins, decided to go to college. He hadn’t even planned to go to college before that. It dramatically shifted the course of his life. He ended up going on to become an aid worker. He went to grad school as an economist. He now works at the US State Department running these massive USAID budgets. It’s really incredible how something so painful and difficult was also a launching-off point for a lot of the best things in his life.

Zibby: Wow. Speaking of doctors, you go through the grizzly broken arm. Not even. Fractured. I don’t even know what you call it. I was literally like, . I was like, I should’ve looked at her arm. I never noticed anything about her arm. Is it totally better?

Allison: Can you see the scar?

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, yes. I can see the scar. It’s right along your elbow.

Allison: It’s metal inside, so it kind of clicks. It’s like a party trick.

Zibby: You kind of knew. You were worried about snowboarding. Then next thing you knew…

Allison: I know. Isn’t that wild? I had been in Switzerland at this big conference and the day after, went snowboarding.

Zibby: It’s not just a big conference. You were at Davos, which is a very famous — I’m like, I didn’t know you could just buy a ticket to Davos.

Allison: Oh, you can’t. No, you can’t. As part of the impact investing work that I had been doing, I had the incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go. I had said to my mom beforehand, I’m like, “I really do want to go snowboarding. I’m afraid I’ll fall and break my arm.” I don’t think like that. I don’t say things like that. It was so, so strange. Sure enough, it was a freak accident where I was going too fast and caught an edge and flipped in the air and landed just the right way. The radial head is this bone that sits in your elbow, and it actually exploded inside my arm. I had to fly back, three trains, two flights, to New York. I was mid-move to New York during that time. My room was at the top of a six-floor walk-up in January in the coldest winter New York had had in recent history. I couldn’t wear long sleeves. I had to drape things over my shoulders to try and stay warm. No central heat. That was a pretty tough season. Thank god for my surgeon and physical therapist because I wouldn’t have made it otherwise.

Zibby: I did a podcast recently with a woman named Theresa Brown who wrote a book called Healing, all about the health-care system and how she was a nurse who had had cancer. In my podcast with her, I talked about that scene in your book. I was like, I know somebody. She had to call all these doctors. She only had three days to save her arm. Nobody would take her.

Allison: It makes you realize how you don’t think about the medical industry until — I don’t think I’ve ever felt more vulnerable in my life. I flew back, landed in the States, went straight to the ER assuming they would just wheel me in and put me into surgery. They go in, do all the CT scans and everything. They’re like, “You need to go find an orthopedic surgeon. Good luck.” The Swiss had said, do the surgery in the next three days or you’ll have permanent, long-term damage. To have that feeling of, no one will take me, no one will do this big surgery because it’s so complex, it was super scary. I had California insurance that New York doctors wouldn’t take.

Zibby: I was just talking about how crazy it is when you have an emergency like that and then you have to wait for an MRI clearance. I’m like, who is the one who’s like, I’m just going to scam the system by getting an MRI of my left ankle bone? Nobody’s doing this. Just approve the things. Anyway, another thing you said, “Just remember, your heart cannot dance if it’s drowning.” I don’t know, these things are sticking with me. I feel like they should all be quotes, this whole thing about your entrepreneurial spirit. Then you write, which I appreciated, “The curse of the entrepreneurial heart is that you will never be satisfied. Entrepreneurs are never content. That’s what makes them entrepreneurial. The very restlessness that drives you forward will be the same angst that keeps you up at night. Entrepreneurship is both a fire igniting and a fire consuming.”

Allison: Ooh!

Zibby: Do you remember writing this?

Allison: I needed to hear that. No, I don’t remember writing that.

Zibby: Then you say, “Be aware of this, Ash, as you embark on new ventures. You’ll be tempted to think that success, that the finish lines will relieve you of your angst, but the reality is, for people like you and I, the journey is where the joy of work is worked out.”

Allison: That is a major myth. You think this whole time, if I can just do this thing, if I can just hit that mark, if I can just achieve whatever that thing is. Then you do, and you realize that’s not the thing that’s going to make you suddenly feel like you’ve arrived in some way. I actually have this philosophy about books and great books. I think every nonfiction book has to have a moral of the story. You should be able to distill the big idea in a way that you can easily share with somebody else. I wrote the first chapter and really sat with, what is the message that I’m trying to share through this book? I realized it’s that the journey is the destination. When I was a kid, I had this idea that one day I was going to hit thirty-five and have arrived. Suddenly, my life would just be together. I’d be this fully formed adult. You’re grown up. Then you just go live your life. When I realized that we never actually arrive and that the process is the destination, it changes everything because you realize it’s the how, not the what. It shifts the way that we live day to day. It certainly has for me.

Zibby: Amazing. One more piece. I don’t usually go through — there are just so many of these things. This is about going through a hard time and, actually, when you were revealing everything that you were going through publicly. Somebody said to you, “You’re going through an incredibly difficult time, and it’s okay to be honest about it. You don’t have to pretend that everything is all right.” You said, “I nodded, lip quivering. No one had ever given me that permission, or maybe I’d never given it to myself. You will minister far more to the women in your section if you are real with them in your pain than if you pretend to have it all together.” I was like, underline, underline.

Allison: That’s another myth. We think that if we’re composed and in control of our life, that that is going to allow us to have the greatest impact on people. It’s actually through our vulnerability and our weaknesses and our failures and the difficult points that you build real relationships and connection. Some of the most meaningful moments even in friendships and family for me have been those really, really hard seasons and how people show up for you and vice versa.

Zibby: Then the last thing that I’m taking with me out of here as one of the many things is, “If it’s not absolutely yes, then it’s absolutely no,” in terms of . I’m like, that’s an interesting framework by which to live. Okay.

Allison: Totally. I still say that when I get asked to do things. If it’s not the hell yes, it’s hell no. It makes a much easier decision matrix because you realize there are certain things that you get asked to do, and you just light up. You’re like, obviously, yes. Of course, I want to do that. Then the things that you wrestle with, those are usually just a pass. Zibby, I love this because I just read your book a month or so after it came out. I read it in one day. I listened to it on audiobook. I felt like I had just spent a whole day deep diving with you on your life story. I loved it. I felt like, oh, my gosh, I know you in all these deep, incredible ways. All the wisdom from the grief that you’ve navigated and all of the origin story of what you’re doing now, it was just so beautiful to know you deeply. I feel like we’ve almost had this asynchronous friendship.

Zibby: I should’ve read your book earlier. I feel terrible now. I’m like, I should’ve read this months ago. I feel the same way. I’m sending out all these love waves. It was really nice.

Allison: I love it.

Zibby: Copper Books, quick tell everybody about Copper Books.

Allison: I actually published Twenty-Two while I was getting my MBA over at Oxford. I was in business school. I made the ill-advised life decision to try and do both of those at the same time, to be in business school, a one-year program, and do the book publishing process. Releasing the book and thinking about business and markets, it really had me asking a lot of questions about how books come to market, how authors reach readers. I just felt a little overwhelmed by the whole process. There wasn’t a lot of transparency in it. Then I started asking questions of, could there be a better way? What would it look like for authors to reach readers and for readers to build meaningful community around books? How do we get more people reading more broadly? I realized that if you look at all of the social platforms that exist today, they all start by taking a creator and making them the star in some way. Instagram was for photographers. TikTok was for dancers. Twitch was for gamers. Etsy was for crafters. It felt like authors had gotten left out of the creator economy. I, in a long, circuitous path, set out to build a platform to help them build an audience and reach an audience. The app released back in May. I encourage everybody to download. You can just search Copper Books in the App Store on iOS. You can actually follow Zibby and see — she does a bookshelf of all of the books and authors that she’s interviewing for her podcast. You can find joint discussions, live events.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I have to update that. Okay, I’ll do that today. Keep going.

Allison: There’s a whole live events feature, so you can meet authors. If you’re an aspiring author, it’s especially geared towards aspiring authors just starting out wanting to build community. You can track your reading. Actually, we just released a feature where now when you hit “finished” on a book, it’ll shoot confetti, which is my favorite part. You can track what you’re reading and share recommendations with your friends. It’s really fun. I feel like I’m addicted to the app at this point. It’s so joyful to use. I probably read five times as much now because I’m just so inspired by all of the incredible books and content out there. I’m voraciously reading as much as possible. The irony is that it’s an app that the goal is to get you off the app and into the book.

Zibby: I love it. Do you have any time to write these days? I know you said you wanted to write another book at some point. I feel like you need to write another book very soon.

Allison: I actually have started working on it. Yes, I just talked to a publisher that I think is interested in it. We’re going to start taking the book out there in January, February. I’m going to kick off the process again. I lead a writing retreat every year and was just doing some writing on the book last week. This one, I just scratched the surface. It pours out of me because it’s really the journey of building this company and that kind of entrepreneurial mindset. How do you build resiliency and overcome failures, setbacks, letdowns, and pursue that dream that keeps you up at night, whatever that is in your life? It’s similar to Twenty-Two and what I wish I had. This is going to be the book that I wish someone had handed to me when I was first incorporating a business.

Zibby: You could just keep this going for a long time, what I wish I knew about…

Allison: I know, right?

Zibby: Everybody, check out Copper Books — it’s in the App Store — and this beautiful book, Twenty-Two, which has the most gorgeous cover. Oh, my gosh.

Allison: That’s my handwriting.

Zibby: Is it really?

Allison: Yes. I asked them if we could use my handwriting. I was at the office. I took a colored pencil, and I wrote Twenty-Two and sent them a picture of it just to show them that my handwriting was okay. They just grabbed that and used it for the cover.

Zibby: It’s gorgeous, totally gorgeous. Thanks, Allie. Thanks for coming on. It was so fun.

Allison: Thank you, Zibby. Such a joy. I love seeing you.

Zibby: You too. Bye.

Allison: Bye.

Allison Trowbridge, TWENTY-TWO

TWENTY-TWO by Allison Trowbridge

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