Internationally known book publicist Kathryn Hall, who was instrumental in promoting such seminal books as Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain and Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman, writes a highly popular gardening blog, “Plant Whatever Brings You Joy!” She is now the author of the book, Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden (Estrella Catarina), in which she shares 52 life lessons from the garden. This is a continuation of her interview with us about her work as a publicist, author and blogger.
In your work as a publicist, do you have a sense that the media reflects what the general public really wants, or does the general public drive the media?
KH: I think the media – and I would include publishing as part of that – has been profoundly arrogant. I remember a really long time ago listening to a panel of publishing people from New York saying, “We don’t really care what the people think, we’re the ones who make the decisions.” I thought that was profoundly arrogant. I think that has changed, because we’re now all reporters because of social media, Facebook and Twitter. We’re all so much more woven together.
The media shifted to relying (reluctantly) on iReports during the Green Movement on the streets of Iran. Nothing has been the same since that event. If they wanted to tell the story, the media were suddenly compelled to rely on people on the street getting messages and images through on cellphones. And that event legitimized the reporter on the street. I participated in this firsthand by spending two full weeks, several hours a day, passing along images and messages from people in the streets of Iran to the public, via Twitter. It was a very intense time, but enormously important and very empowering for citizens seeking change in repressive conditions. I was glad to have helped.
CNN was saying, “Well, these are the only images we have.” And they were kind of apologetic and embarrassed because they were iReports, but then somehow they had to legitimize it and now they’re using it regularly. Just within the last year that has shifted dramatically. They are now competing with the individual. They can’t do those power things anymore. It’s not going to work.
How did promoting such books as Creative Visualization and Way of the Peaceful Warrior influence your life?
KH: I don’t think it was an accident that the first book that I was asked to promote was Creative Visualization. I was there at the inception of that publishing company (New World Library). Shakti was basically self-publishing her book. She did exactly what I am now doing. They hired me and said, “Be the publicist.” We were all winging it and figuring it out in this house in Mill Valley (CA), so long ago.
Shakti and Marc Allen were teaching workshops and they said, “Maybe we should write this down.” They did another book first, called Reunion, before I came around and before they actually started the publishing company. Then Shakti did Creative Visualization and they said, “Promote this book!” At least I had a degree in English. I had something to rely upon, and I was innovative, and I had background in booking because I had been a professional singer in Europe, so it worked.
Creative Visualization was important to me because I was already doing that, but once I read Shakti’s book I thought, “Oh, okay.” It solidified what I was already doing. It brought to full consciousness how I was already living my life. It connected the dots in a much more solid way.
Dan Millman was just part of the scene at the time. He was published by H.J. Kramer, and I promoted some books for them. Dan’s always been in the background in my life somehow. We’re very similar in certain ways. We’re both Pisces. He’s just part of my extended network, but also I like him very, very much. He’s a wonderful person.
When did you get the inkling that a book was in the works for you personally?
KH: I got the idea for the book when I was completing a major task in my life, which was raising my daughter as a single parent. I was so ready to just be by myself. She went off to college and I went to live in the woods next to the ocean in a very quiet place. I looked around where I had brought myself – to Little River, just south of Mendocino (125 miles north of San Francisco) – and I thought, “I need to start a garden.” This was 20 years ago. I started seeing that what was true about working with the earth was also true in my life, so I started taking notes, and then I started writing.
Clearly you are a natural storyteller, and if you don’t mind I’ll mention some topics and I’d love to hear a condensed version of a story related to that. First, describe a special relationship you have with a special plant.
KH: The first thing that comes to mind is nasturtium. I always have nasturtium around me, always. It’s a very simple, very happy flower, and it comes mostly in oranges and yellows and reds. It grows in almost any kind of soil, so it is completely adaptable. It doesn’t care, it’s not fussy, but it gives so much. It has a charming energy around it and it always makes people happy. You grow it in big bunches, so it just fills up the space and it climbs and it twines around things and has its own mind and people always respond to it favorably. They always just stop and look at it and they love it. You can even eat it. You can put the flowers in salads. Apparently you can eat the leaves. I have done neither, but I know it’s a possibility. I always have this little survival thing in the background of my mind: “Well, if it gets bad I can eat the nasturtium.”
Describe your connection to chickens. You seem to like them.
KH: I love chickens. There is the story in my book about Chanticleer, a rooster that I found when I was living on four acres of land up near Santa Rosa, CA. At the bottom of the dirt road where we lived, this rooster shows up with a partner, and the neighbors were just so completely blasÃ© about it. I couldn’t believe it.
I was like, “It’s a rooster!”
They went, “Yeah, so?”
I started feeding him. Within days, I went down and there were just feathers everywhere so I knew his little partner had been captured in the middle of the night by an owl or a hawk. There were so many things that could have eaten it. But I was worried about the rooster. So I put a cage at the bottom of the road and put some corn inside the cage, which he really wanted, and then I tied a string to the door. Eventually he was so hungry and wanted the corn so much that he went into the cage and I pulled the string and captured him and got help to bring him home.
I just loved him. He was beautiful. He was a bantam, so he wasn’t that big, but I was scared to pick him up because I didn’t know if he would bite me. I knew that some roosters were mean. Eventually I found a 4-H guy to come to my house and he showed me how to pick him up. Upside down.
So his name was Chanticleer. And then I got a beautiful bantam hen for him, whom I named Henny Penny. They were so utterly charming. They would scratch around in the daytime and then at night I had to keep them safe someplace, right? So I put them in a dog kennel and popped the dog kennel in the back of my Explorer so that nothing could get them, which was pretty funny, but it worked. I had them until I moved to North Carolina and then I had to very tearfully give them to a neighbor.
Are chickens loyal? If you let them out during the day will they stay around your house and not run away?
KH: No, they never tried to run away. They stayed right by the house. I was always worried because there were turkey vultures and hawks everywhere, but they would hide. They are intuitive and would hide under bushes. I just loved them. They were just so dear. I love chickens so much. I think it stems from when I was a little girl and had chickens.
And for the animal-lover in you, you must tell us about Sweet Pea, the kitten.
KH: Oh, Sweet Pea. Sweet Pea came to us out of the woods. I always say, “The woods giveth and the woods taketh away.” That’s what I think. If you live in the woods, you know what I am talking about.
Sweet Pea came and was sitting in the driveway, and I told Moxie, my Border Collie, to chase her back into the woods because I didn’t want her fighting with my outdoor cats. But she didn’t. She rolled up on a step and put her feet up in the air, and I thought, “Oh, God, she’s got rabies of something. This is not good!”
And so I called my dogs in the house, and I just watched her. And then, of course, I put food out to see what would happen, and she came closer and ate. Eventually she would let me get maybe 10 feet away. I would sneak up on her, and I played this game with her for days and days, trying to build trust with her.
Then one day I found her asleep in the sun. She was a little kitten, not very big, and I said, “Kitty?” And she didn’t move. So I said it louder, and she didn’t move. I clapped my hands and I said, “Kitty!” Then I realized that she was completely deaf. That’s why she’d been throwing her head around and acting so strangely. The only way she could protect herself was to slink around.
This went on for six weeks, just very slowly getting her to trust me. One day I took these feathers and tied them to a stick and stuck them underneath the cabin. There was a guesthouse on that property where she used to hide underneath. I stuck the feathers underneath and she was grabbing at them, and I thought, “Okay, this is kind of scary, but this is good,” and then she came out and she let me pick up her little feet. She’s still with me. Sweet Pea has been an incredibly loving addition to my life.
Tell us why scarves now mean more to you than they ever did before.
KH: It was my experiment, a very unexpected result in exploring the possibilities of using a blog for a social project. I read the book Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time. I can’t remember how I learned about it, but I was really inspired by Greg Mortenson’s experience in Pakistan, starting schools in Pakistan for girls. If you haven’t read it, you should. I couldn’t get it out of my heart. Somehow, it just really captured my imagination and my heart and I wanted to help those girls.
I had already reviewed the book on my blog, and I wrote to my readers and said, “What if we knitted some scarves for those girls?” I thought maybe I would get a dozen scarves, but what happened is that people kept writing to me from all over the world, from the UK, from Canada and from all over the United States, asking, “How big? What should we use?” I got this amazing response, and then I’m going to the post office and every day or two I’m getting another beautiful scarf from someone from somewhere. That was extraordinary until I had about 100 scarves. Then I had the task of how was I going to get them to Pakistan.
I contacted Greg Mortenson’s office and I thought they would say, “Oh, that’s wonderful,” but they didn’t. They said, “We can only take cash.”
I thought, “Oh, God, what have I started? How will I do this?”
So, I went online and I found Nazir Sabir, the head of the Alpine Club of Pakistan. He is wonderful. I read that he had experience in helping to get supplies to earthquake victims. I wrote to him and he said, “I would love to help you with this.” We packed everything up and then I had to raise money to send the package. People sent me checks, and my next door neighbors gave me $100 and made me cry. It was so sweet, this elderly couple next door.
We mailed the scarves to Pakistan, but then they couldn’t get through because the Karakoram Highway was closed for winter. So those 100 scarves sat with Nazir Sabir for a many months, and when the snow melted they took them up to Askole village where we were sending them. I managed to connect with a woman who was a doctor from Italy who worked in a tiny clinic in Askole village. When she was able to get through the Karakoram Highway and up to Askole village, she wrote me to say, “The girls are coming into the clinic and they are telling me how much they love the scarves.” Oh, it was so dear, so dear. So, that was an incredibly moving experience and shows the power of using a blog for social change.
What is your next project?
KH: I’m not completely committed, but I have a feeling what it will be. There is a big sign in this town where I live that says, “Future Home of Skateboard Park,” but that sign has been there for five years. I’ve been talking to the kids on the street who are on skateboards, saying, “What’s the story with this skateboard park?” What the locals are telling me is they have been talking about it for decades. Because I am a person who makes things happen, I told them, “I can’t do it this year, I’m working on a book, but next year I’m going to get this skateboard park built!” So, let’s see if my inner guidance agrees with that assessment and I make it happen.
I think little boys should have a place to safely come together and not be risking their lives on the streets and being chased out of parking lots. The land is there; let’s build it.
Read Kathryn Hall’s blog at plantwhateverbringsyoujoy.com, and email her at plantjoyblog[@]gmail.com.