Warm. Witty. Wise beyond her years.
CONVERSATIONS WITH ZIBBY OWENS
Zibby Owens has a very impressive resume which includes Yale graduate and Harvard Business School; however more important to us is her perspective on life. Her grace in which she handles challenges is inspiring. She is a down to earth and incredibly driven mother of four. She finds humor in the every day struggles of life. She takes on challenges with an energy we strive for and an enlightened perspective which we admire. To give you an idea of her modesty and down to earth character, Zibby says this after her recent NY Mag article and review:
"Did she really mean ME?! “New York’s most powerful book-fluencer.” “The Oprah of books in New York.” “An Upper East Side preppier version of what Gertrude Stein was doing.” I literally started crying reading it on Lexington Avenue. I never could have predicted that an article like this would EVER be written about me. I can “retire” now. Ha! Just kidding. I can’t wait to get back to it. All of it."
Hedge Interview with Zibby Owens Transcript
Meagan: Thank you for inviting me into your beautiful home today. I only get to see
glimpses of you now that we’re out of preschool and a little bit out here in the
Hamptons, so it's nice to finally really have a chance to talk. You have been a writer for your whole life and have now extended your literary love into a podcast interviewing authors about their latest works. What an inspiring job! I believe that writers are special breed. It takes so much vulnerability to write… to put your words and emotions down on paper and it takes so much bravery to share them with the world. I have an immense respect for your ability to observe; to reflect and to share it in such a touching, realistic often humorous fashion. It can truly change the way people think and behave. And that's a really powerful thing. Can you share with us a little about your process?
Zibby: Thank you! But I don't feel like it's brave because for me, writing is just
how I process what I feel. I sit down at the computer and my thoughts start
flowing from my fingers. Sometimes I use the writing to organize what I'm feeling.
It just comes easily from my brain onto the page. It’s been that way my whole life.
I don’t know why.
Meagan: It’s certainly easier for me to write than to talk. It’s very cathartic to get my
thoughts onto paper. How long have you been writing?
Zibby: I've been writing forever… since I could write. When I was nine years old, I was writing short stories in school and my grandfather, a rabbi, had a miniature book publishing business. He published two of my stories in my own little book for my 10th birthday. I realized I could hand out copies to people of what I’d written and it was the coolest thing ever. So, I've been doing it for as long as I can remember. My first published piece in a magazine came out when I was 16 years old. I wrote it when I was 14. It was about how I was feeling at that time when my parents were getting divorced. I was dealing with my body changing because I ate to deal with my feelings. I wrote that piece out of frustration when I was having a bad day. My mother found it and she suggested we send it to Seventeen magazine. They actually bought it and ran the story and I got so much wonderful feedback from it. I got to see the power of connecting with people, especially people who I didn't know, which is amazing.
Meagan: Wonderful. Your parents, from what I can gather, have been very supportive. They observed your talent and passion for writing and guided you. Did you always feel that you were allowed to be your whole self with them? Were they ever trying to get you to be a lawyer, or a doctor or in finance like your father?
Zibby: No, no. It was very clear that I was not going to do anything like my father in that way. I mean, I'm good at math. But not as a career. My parents wanted me to be whatever I wanted to be. They always encouraged me to try my hardest, whatever it was, or not to do it at all. No half ass trying. Like, if you're going to do it, then put your whole heart in it.
Meagan: So that's where your strong work ethic has really shown because you're
quite the entrepreneur. You have started a few successful businesses. Tell us the
steps you've taken since college and the businesses you've been involved with
and the projects you've been doing.
Zibby: I've always been really attracted to startups. After college, I worked for a tiny
brand development firm. I was really interested in understanding consumer behavior and what made people attached to brands. I originally wanted to be a psychologist. I joined a company called idealab!, which was an Internet incubator and tons of new businesses were just rolling through. It was a really exciting place to be at a time when the whole industry was changing. I caught the bug there. I just loved seeing what was possible; the branding in the beginning. Then I worked on more traditional consumer products doing marketing for Unilever. I helped launch the Vera Wang fragrance. I actually had an idea to start a service for young busy professionals with my roommate at the time. The idea was to have a service where people would wait for your cable guy or help you organize. I could see that all of my friends were so busy and didn't have time to do things like that. I mentioned it to my dad and he said, “You’re not starting any business unless you go to business school. Then you'll have all the information that you need to create a company.”
So, I went to business school. I got there two weeks before September 11th 2001. I lost my best friend Stacey that day. She was my college roommate. That event changed my life. I realized if I was going to die at my desk -- at my job -- then I had to bring my whole self to what I was doing. That upcoming summer, I had an internship at an ad agency which did the marketing for Pepperidge Farm cookies. It was sort of a dream job in some respects because I love cookies, I love food and I love marketing. But while I was there, I felt like it wasn’t enough for me. I thought, this can’t be it. Instead I decided to take a non-traditional path and took time off to write, which I had always wanted to do. It's hard when you're 25 years old to say, “I'm going be a writer.” You don’t have a lot of life experience which one really needs to inform your writing. Now that I'm in my forties, I know this is the time to write. Tell me about the crumb cake business you started, Nene’s Treats.
One day I saw my husband Kyle at the computer and I was like, “What are you doing?” He said, “I'm helping my sister launch a Kickstarter campaign for her bakery with my mom and grandmother, Nene.” They make incredible crumb cakes. And I was like, “Hold up! Let me help you.” We came up with a new name, a slogan, a new logo. I enjoyed the branding. It was the easiest sell too, it truly sold itself. I got super involved and helped them get into a lot of different stores. They were successful because Kyle's mom and sister and grandma are relentlessly hard workers; it was all them. My mom and I helped get them into The New York Times and the farm stand in the Hamptons, Butterfield Market in NYC, and others started carrying them. That was really exciting and fun for me. However, it started taking
up too much time and Kyle's mom was ready to be the CEO, so I put that aside.
Meagan: How did you get back into writing?
Zibby: I started writing essays online about parenting. It was September. It was back to school mayhem… form after form, ‘bring in toilet paper rolls for this class. Bring in this. Bring in that. Come for 20 minutes here. Sign up for this.’ I was going out of my mind and I didn't have any time spend with the kids. Each one of my four children has after-school activities and has their own different schedule. I couldn't keep it all straight. So, I just vented about it, basically and I put it up on HuffPost and within a week I had like 65,000 read it or something crazy. That piece encouraged me to keep writing about parenting.
After a while, Kyle, my husband said, “You know, you should make a collection of your essays into a book.” To which I said, “Moms don’t have time to read books!” I was like, “Oh, that's what I should call my book!” Another friend of mine, an author named Sarah Mlynowski, who I had coffee with said, “You know, you should really have a podcast.” And I was like, “Well, what's a podcast?” After she described it I thought, “Well, I'll just try it.” I'll see what happens and see where it goes. My first guest was my friend and author Lea Carpenter, who I went to business school with. And I just loved the process. There are so few things where I'm focused, like today, how I am with you. This is great! On a day-to-day basis I feel like there are so many things going on all the time. When I do a podcast interview, it all just stops and I can focus and get to know somebody. And I love that, especially when I love the book.
Meagan: I’d like to ask you about Bibliotherapy….do you believe that books can be
medicine for the heart and soul? For me, books create a way to not only escape, but you get a chance to experience something a character is going through and you can learn from them. You can identify with the situation and it really does make you feel like you're not alone.
It's more than just enjoying the story. And regarding our children, I know the more they read, the more empathetic they can become; all of us can. A little time not being in the center of their own world all the time but getting into someone else's shoes.
Zibby: Totally. I've only heard the term ‘bibliotherapy’ once or twice before, but never heard it explained this well. And I now want to use that word all the time. I completely agree. People always say to moms, “Take time for yourself!” And I'm like, I don't have time for self-care. It's not happening! I can’t go relax and take a bath. But I could open a book and read for a few minutes and immediately I'm somewhere else. Much more so than if I turn on the TV, which takes me like 10 minutes to even find something my husband and I like. And to your point, the empathy does come.
As I've gotten busier and busier, there's less time to sit and one-on-one bond with a friend over coffee. I've cut out a lot in favor of trying to get everything else done, and I miss that. It's so important. When I read, it’s a similar experience. Reading about what the characters go through is the same as sitting and listening to a friend talk even though I'm not talking back… so I'm thinking back.
Meagan: In the book, Alice in Wonderland, the irresistible Cheshire Cat, says
‘we're all mad here’. It’s a wonderful quote because it's absolutely true. We are!
But, we don’t reveal these characteristics of our personality to anyone other than
family or very close friends. Would you mind sharing something that makes you a
little crazy with us?
Zibby: Oh gosh. I always change plans. I change plans all the time. I think it drives
people around me crazy. The impetus for it is that I’m always thinking of some way to do it better. I feel like it comes from a good place. I also get very anxious about not having plans set. So, I book things really early and I'll have flights nine months out and then it gets closer and I say what if this other thing is better? What if we did this? Kyle makes fun of me and tells me that's what I say more than anything: “What if…” The whole family is like, all right, let's hear it.
Meagan: Well, at least they're on board!
Zibby: Yeah, I believe that my motivation is good, but I think the end result is often a lot of logistical nightmares!
Meagan: What is the best compliment you've ever received?
Zibby: The other evening at the dinner party we had a friend came over who I don't
know super well and she said, “You always bring together so many wonderful people. I think it’s because you bring out the warmth in everybody.” I thought that was so nice.
Meagan: You most certainly do that. And that was an incredible evening! You are an avid tennis player. Maybe even as passionate as I am. What is it that you love most about the game? Besides the fact that you met your husband playing tennis, which is another amazing story.
Zibby: I love that every shot, you get to do again and again. You get to figure out what you did wrong and then try it over right away. But golf... my issue with golf is when you have a bad hole it can ruin the whole game. In tennis you can just change it up right away. You never know what's going to happen. I love it. The challenge of where to hit the ball; the sensation of hitting the ball, playing with a good partner. I don't know. It's like a conversation you're having with somebody.
Meagan: Do you feel you have a competitive edge when you're playing or are you just kind of more for fun?
Zibby: I usually play for fun. I just like to hit. Everybody in L.A. plays something called Live Ball. It's basically like king of the court for an hour and a half, but they change up all the directions. It's really complicated. I make so many mistakes that I have to tell the group I’m playing with, “I’m sorry! I'm a smart person, I promise, but I cannot keep the directions straight!” It’s challenging. It's fast-paced. I love it. You're constantly with new partners. It's all about strategy, but consistency. You have to try it. Mostly I just love hitting with my husband.
Meagan: I would love to try it. What was it like to grow up in Manhattan?
Zibby: I feel like the Upper East Side of Manhattan is just a tiny little village where I still live. I think I'm the kind of person that if I had grown up in like a small town in the middle of the United States, I would still be there. I want to be where I grew up, around the same people who I grew up with. It just happens that I grew up in like New York City. But I thought it was great! I really love the people I grew up with, many of whom are still in our neighborhood. At my kids’ schools, I love the parents. Obviously, it's a unique experience now that I'm a grown-up and I see all the other ways I could have been raised but I'm choosing to raise my kids there, too.
Meagan: How are you navigating parenting in the city? Are you doing anything
differently than your parents did? Do you feel like there is a price to privilege?
Zibby: One of the most important parts of growing up in New York is being able to leave New York. So, getting the children out to see more parts of the world; getting them out for a break; getting them into nature, spending the summers out of New York is really important. I had that. I think each of my kids is really different. One of my kids in particular really just does not like New York. And he’s very vocal about that. It's not for everybody. So he actually went to boarding school this year. Kyle and I spend a ton of time in L.A., too, which I love to visit. You know, it’s just too intense for me when I don’t escape for a little while. When we’re here, it's great. We make the best of it. We go to the theater. We take advantage of amazing classes and museums and resources. And then… we're out of there.
Meagan: That's a nice balance. Do you have a secret that you would like to share? This is actually my daughter's question.
Zibby: I might have to think on this one a little bit. Hmmm….. well, I'm a pretty good juggler! People might not know that about me.
Meagan: What is one of your pleasures in life?
Zibby: Other than reading, seeing friends and playing tennis? I think drinking coffee is probably my biggest pleasure. I also really love to bake. That's one of my favorite things to do if I had the time. Other pleasures? I really love home design. Honestly, I like decorating. Home design magazines and picking things out and redoing things. And I really love photography. Another huge passion of mine taking pictures. I've done photography my whole life and now collect photography and go to photo exhibits. I follow a bunch of photographers on Instagram. And Lori, Lori does incredible work! (Lori Hawkins, our photographer and videographer for this Portrait & video shoot).
Meagan: What is a lesson you have learned lately?
Zibby: I’m trying to sell a new book now and am learning, daily, not to take rejection personally. I have to keep reminding myself of that. Over… and over.. and over. As my husband says, finding a publisher is like fitting a puzzle piece into a puzzle and you just have to find the right one. I’m working on that now!
Meagan: As adults we never stop growing and changing. How do you feel you are
Zibby: I’m growing so much. I’m learning all the time, interacting with new people,
absorbing new ideas, reading. My brain is like on fire right now! I’m overflowing
with ideas for articles, books, children’s books, TV shows, even board games,
and it’s because I’m just so in the flow right now!
Meagan: What scares you?
Zibby: Having something happen to my kids. Or Kyle. Or anyone in my family. Or
Meagan: What are you most proud of?
Zibby: My family.
Meagan: What is the most impactful book you have read?
Zibby: Oh boy. I can’t pick one. Maybe the one my daughter, Sadie, just wrote for me!
Meagan: What endearing term did your dad call you growing up?
Zibby: Monkey or Monk or Miss Monk. My mom, too!
Meagan: What do you strive for?
Zibby: I want to help people. I want to connect and make people out there feel less alone.
Meagan: We share so many things in common, having started business, love for
literature, having too many kids in this crazy city, a passion for tennis…. Can you
tell us how you met your husband all fun details of your tennis themed wedding?
Zibby: We met when he gave my son, a reluctant tennis player, a tennis lesson and then told me he didn’t want to teach him! I couldn’t believe it. But I respected him for that! We got married next to our tennis court at a rental house and the reception/dinner/dancing was on the court! All our invitations had tennis puns, we had tennis ball cookies, a tournament roster for the guest list and more!
VIDEOGRAPHY by Lori Hawkins @lorimhawk on Instagram
EDITING: Mcain Merren
Behind The Scenes with Zibby, Kyle, Lori & Meagan and our animals who love to lay on piles of Hedge:
Checking the light with Lori
Dutch Mulligan getting cozy on freshly pressed Hedge!
Meagan fixing Zibby's collar, she's defiinitely not reading OR drinking here. #forcedprops
Zibby's coffee, personalized!
We tried hats!
Mr. Behind the Scenes himself, Kyle Owens
Zibby has the most amazing, inspiring art collection; we love this one!
Custom Nikes for ZO from Kyle.
Thank you for a great day everyone!