Samantha Hart, BLIND PONY

Samantha Hart, BLIND PONY

Just like you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can never tell a person’s story by looking at them. Samantha Hart has led an illustrious career working on marketing campaigns for movies and music, but her memoir, Blind Pony, paints a different picture as it details the abuse and trauma she endured in her childhood. Samantha shares how her struggles have led to her success and why writing this book was so cathartic.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Samantha. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to talk about Blind Pony: As True A Story As I Can Tell.

Samantha Hart: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

Zibby: Congratulations on your book. It’s really exciting.

Samantha: Thank you.

Zibby: You have lived quite an inspirational life. You’ve had so much to deal with, to write about, these experiences all over the world. It’s amazing the way you’ve distilled it down into this book and the way you’ve parlayed everything into your career today and all the rest. It’s just really impressive and amazing. Just had to say that.

Samantha: I started writing the book — I would be at cocktail parties and people would say, “You have so many stories. You should write a book.” They were just anecdotal, funny things. They had no real depth or meaning. I thought one day, maybe I should write a book. I started writing. It just became catharsis. What came out actually surprised me because what I had to write about was so deep and so much a part of who I became. The pain that I built on in layers became the person that I evolved to. I never really made that connection before writing the book. I think that’s kind of complicated to understand. I think that some people use their pain or whatever to hide or to retreat. I used my pain to push me forward. Part of it was becoming a single mom and really having that feeling of, well, I’ve got to get busy because I’ve got to take care of her. That became my life’s mission. Everything else got put on the back burner. Now that I’ve had an opportunity in my life to reflect, I even read the book and I can’t believe I went through some of the things I went through, Zibby. Sometimes I go, gosh, golly, how did I get through that?

Zibby: I’m like, is this really true, all of this?

Samantha: Yeah, it’s true, unfortunately. I left out a lot of bits because I didn’t want to write a tell-all. It wasn’t about that. It was about me and my personal trauma and my personal experiences. Part of me was constantly going, I don’t want to tell people this. I still have clients out there. What are people going to think of me revealing all this stuff? As terrified as I was to do it because of those reasons, it’s joyful now that I did it. I realized that it actually is helping people. There are a lot of blind ponies out there, I like to say. When you pull on a thread and you know you’ve pulled on it, it’s actually a good feeling even though it does start a sort of unraveling. Your book, “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books,” what mom can’t relate to that? Do you know what I’m saying? You pulled on a thread. It’s infectious. I read the book right away. It’s that type of thing. I think Blind Pony is a little trickier. I have noticed lately, mental health has become a really big deal in the society’s conversation. I wrote the book not really expecting to ignite that conversation. I really just wrote the book, like I said, first, it was just a catharsis. My husband kept saying, “You’ve got to do this.” He kept encouraging me to finish the book. When the pandemic hit and I had the time to stop down and really reflect and think about it, that’s when I was able to finish it.

Zibby: Maybe you could tell people who don’t understand what a blind pony is or the bigger beats of your life story, if you could share them.

Samantha: The title really came from, I was literally given a blind pony. I grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania. My grandfather began abusing me shortly after we moved to the farm with my four sisters and I. My mother got divorced. She took us back to her family farm. I think I was at the age where I could be manipulated. I was five years old. I grew up not really understanding what love was, not really understanding that I was being so manipulated. That’s all I’m going to say about it or I’ll get emotional. I think as, also, a form of control over me, he gave me this blind pony. She was only blind in one eye. Her eye was kicked out, so it was really gruesome to look at. She became a metaphor for how I felt, damaged. When you have four sisters, there’s always competition. They’d all be galloping over Gobbler’s Knob, and I’d be trotting along with the blind pony. I’d have to be her eyes and guide her because she’d spook at almost anything. It really stuck with me, that experience of having this blind pony. Her name was Princess. The cost of being a princess is being damaged in some way. All these little pieces kind of fit together for me. That’s why I named the book Blind Pony. It became, like I said, a metaphor for not being seen and heard. I built the book around that. The trauma I experienced as a child before I ran away at age fourteen was so significant that it stayed with me really for the rest of my life.

Now I think I’m finally in a really healthy place where I don’t have these repetitive nightmares. I don’t hear a screen door snap shut and it triggers an emotion I felt as a little girl when the babysitter ran off with our household money. These things that happened, as small as they seem, when you’re little, they live on in the recesses of your mind. Throughout the book, there are mentions of my pony or these experiences. It’s sort of flashbacks that occur at different points. After I ran away from the farm is really where the action starts. I went looking for my dad. He was a character I only knew as Wild Bill. He really lived up to his name. I didn’t get the opportunity to really get to know him, but I did get to know him well enough to sort of debunk the way I idolized him. Still, I used him as a metaphor of someone who was my guardian angel, in a way. It’s kind of complicated there too. I find my way to Los Angeles. Then a lot of crazy things happened. By the grace and grit, I don’t know how else to explain it, I ended up with quite a successful career here.

I couldn’t have written this book, for example, if the Me Too Movement hadn’t happened. People had become a little desensitized to talking about some of these themes. It’s not as shocking. When I started thinking about talking about the book, I was so embarrassed to say that I’d been abused as a child. There was so much stigma attached to it that it was like, I can’t possibly say that. Because of all these brave people who came before, it paved the way for me to be able to speak some of my truth. My situation wasn’t really Me Too. Plenty of Me Too things happened in my years growing up in the business, too many to count, but they weren’t so terrible that they’re even worth repeating. It was just the way it was. It was a different time period. Getting slapped on the butt was just, you did a good job, kid, boom, on your butt. It was a different thing. Now if someone did that, it would be like, what have you just done to me? I’m going to sue you for everything you have. It was different. I’m not saying it was okay. I much prefer the workplace as it’s evolved now for women. My journey, it was definitely unique. It was a great price to me emotionally. It all really began with being abused as a child. I don’t think that if I had been protected and not abused as a child that any of this would’ve happened.

Who knows what my career could’ve been or should’ve been had I had the education I deserved or the opportunities? I had plenty of opportunities from mentors, but that was just by my own chutzpah that I was able to get through doors or finagle my way. I think that some things should’ve been given to me that weren’t, like an education or those kinds of things. When I had my daughter, I really committed to breaking that cycle and sent her to the poshest boarding school. She graduated from college in Boston at Emerson. She never wanted for anything. It was just the most paramount thing to me. My sons, the same thing. I’ve raised three great children. I can’t imagine — I’ve spoken about this before. You really understand this. When you look at your children, you love them so much. You can’t even believe that they’re your children, that they came out of you. It never happened to anybody else, did it? It’s only unique to you when they’re yours. It’s hard for me to reconcile, as much as I love my children, that I wasn’t loved in that way. I don’t understand it. I want to do something with all these feelings beyond writing the book. I want to be able to help in some way, to communicate that. Protecting people from these kinds of things, it’s become something that I’m thinking about more and more.

Zibby: At least, raising awareness and getting other people to join in the conversation is a powerful step. Your being willing to admit it just sets an example for other people. Even what you just said, the parts of us that we’re afraid to share are often the most valuable because those are the parts other people don’t want to admit to, whether it’s experiences or feelings or the regrets we have or things we think are crazy about ourselves or whatever. I think that’s the greatest stuff to share if you can.

Samantha: It’s hard.

Zibby: Within reason.

Samantha: Yes. That’s why I appreciate so much, your having me on because I know it’s a difficult topic to tackle for a lot of people to really get their mind wrapped around some of these crazy scenarios that happen in the book.

Zibby: I also think it’s so empowering the way you’ve created this amazing career for yourself. Now you’re running this business. Tell me more about that. All this art direction you did and doing the posters for Dazed and Confused and all these iconic things that you did over time and how now you’re still running a creative business, it’s great.

Samantha: I think all of us have a unique talent. The trick is finding it. Even kids who’ve gone to college grapple with, what’s my reason for living? I know, to some degree, my daughter went through that. She’s an amazing singer. She didn’t really want to become a performer on Broadway, though she could’ve. She has her own little theater arts group. It’s actually growing. It’s an amazing thing that she does, gifts these children with the magic of her voice and her imagination. We all have these talents. I think that when I was little, I lived in my imagination. It was a way of coping, but it was always just who I am. I was a creative person. I was always going in the old farmhouse. I was always trying to redecorate it with all these old antiques that nobody else cared about. I was just obsessed with how beautiful they were. I would polish them up and was so almost obsessive-compulsive about trying to create beauty around me. My aunt had foster kids, and so she had all these Salvation Army clothes. She brought them over for the five girls to help clothe us. I would pin them on in different ways and try to make them look cool. I think that that opened creative channels in my mind about these kinds of things. Maybe I could’ve been a budding fashion designer or whatever. I used that to become a stylist at one point.

Then I happened to fall into the music industry and eventually ended up at Geffen Records. What better place for a creative person than to work under David Geffen? He had a mantra. Nobody has a title here. If people don’t know what you’re doing, then you’re not doing your job. There are no titles. There was not really that kind of a hierarchy. I created a package that sort of changed the industry, the way they packaged CDs. I won’t go into the whole story. Geffen backed me on it. That helped every little step. When the president of the company wanted to take the penis off the Nirvana baby because Walmart wouldn’t carry it, I said, “They have to keep the penis because it’s good if Walmart doesn’t carry Nirvana. They shouldn’t be in Walmart. They’re too cool for Walmart.” I think it’s just something that you intrinsically know creatively in this field. Then when I went on to work in film, I was so underqualified for the job because I didn’t really understand the production of films, but I was very creative. My boss was attracted to that. He hired me. I don’t think I let him down. I came up with amazing campaigns that are still talked about. Melissa Maerz just came out with a great book about the oral history of Dazed and Confused and talks about the iconic poster that I designed of the stoned happy face.

In a way, for me, working on that film was a bit cathartic because I didn’t really have a traditional high school experience. I graduated early. I was living as an adult by myself when I graduated high school. When it was time to go out and party, I was, no, I’ve got to get home and study. I was a different kind of kid. For me, it was just a blast being able to be part of that cast, almost, and be one of them. The copy lines and all the stuff that I put together for that really drove that campaign. Whether or not it was a box office huge success, maybe it should’ve been, I stand behind the campaign I created because I think it really did give it cult status. Richard Linklater wanted the guy in front of a car or high school photos or whatever. That would’ve been cool too. I think the stoned happy face really communicated a lot. At the time, Miramax had put out a film, The Crying Game. The big popular line was, “The film everyone will be talking about, but don’t give away the secret.” We just picked up on that and had, “The film everyone will be toking about.” The MPAA missed it. They didn’t get the joke. Then there was, “See it with a bud.” They didn’t get that joke.

Clinton said, “I smoked marijuana, but I didn’t inhale,” so we came out with a TV spot that said, “Finally, a movie for anyone who did inhale.” Then it became a political thing. Jack Valenti, who was the head of the MPAA, he flagged it, but it was too late. It had already gained a life of its own. So these kinds of thing. Other campaigns I worked on, Fargo, and came up with the needlepoint idea. I was really flattered and excited to see that they picked it up for the TV series. Creating things out of your imagination, I think that that’s a lot of what I did. I relied on a lot of my own experiences. My grandmother did needlepoint. I think that we all rely on our experiences to form our craft or what we do. I think that just over the years, like anybody — it’s a muscle. You use it. It gets better and stronger. Now I really enjoy helping startups with marketing materials. I’m able to look at something and tell if it’s going to work and shape it and make it into something. Somebody will come to me with an idea, and they won’t really know what it means or how to express it. Somehow, my mind is able to just find the beats of what makes it work and put that into an audio-visual piece or a print piece or whatever. It’s just something that I’ve learned.

Zibby: I have to have you help me with my marketing or something.

Samantha: I’d love to. I think you’re doing a great job with your marketing. I love your icons. I think they’re great, infectious. They really are.

Zibby: Thank you. What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Samantha: First of all, to be asked what my advice would be is really flattering. I guess I can put author down on my résumé now.

Zibby: Yes, you can.

Samantha: Steven Soderbergh told me once, when you’re doing anything creatively, the secret is, just commence. Just start. That’s the hardest part. Just begin. Someone reached out to me on LinkedIn telling me, she read my book and it affected her so much. It was so much like her story. What should she do? It’s a very touchy thing because I don’t know her mental state. I don’t know really where she’s at in the process of her healing. I said, “First, I think you should talk to somebody. Second, journaling really helped.” It really helped me. I know a lot of people make fun of people who journal. If you have something that’s making you sad and you write about it, I think sometimes seeing it on the page, sort of go, well, I can deal with that. It’s chipping away at it or something. I would say just commence, to any author. That would be my best advice, the advice I got from Steven.

Zibby: What’s next on the horizon for you in general?

Samantha: I’m still running my company, aptly named Wild Bill, and doing that for the foreseeable future. We want to branch out into certain different areas. Right now, we’re looking at that. I am writing two new books. One is called When I Was a Muse. It’s a little bit of adjunct to Blind Pony, but much different. It’s drawings through the male gaze and short stories and prose through the female gaze, and essays. Then the other book I’m tackling is a little bit based on the stories that come after Blind Pony, but it’s going to be a fiction.

Zibby: Got it. That’s exciting.

Samantha: I’m working on that. That’s got me really excited.

Zibby: It sounds juicy. I can already tell.

Samantha: It’s juicy, but I think the reader will have a lot more fun reading it. Blind Pony, like I said, it was a catharsis. I’ve often thought, should I have not made it so dark? I’ve gotten so many five-star reviews on Goodreads. I can’t believe I get one star, two stars, three. Five stars, you’re giving me? Some people have said, we love the book, but it was really hard to read. I guess I didn’t really think about that when I wrote it. I don’t know, what do you think? Do you think it was too honest?

Zibby: No, I don’t think there is a thing as too honest. I think you have to tell it like it is. I think sometimes when you feel like you want to look away at someone’s pain, that’s the time you have to look closer.

Samantha: That’s well-said. That’s a nice message. I feel good about writing it. That’s what’s important to me. I’m at a point in my life, too, where I really feel I’m at my most joyous. Like I said, I’ve raised three beautiful children. My boys are going to be seniors now, which I can’t believe. They’re in their last week of finals right now. My daughter is a beautiful young woman. I just feel that’s the biggest accomplishment I’ve made. I’ve contributed three amazing humans to the world. I have some regrets. I wish I would’ve maybe tried to write sooner because I feel I have a lot more to say. I don’t think it’s ever too late, so I’m just going to keep going and exploring and trying to be the best person I can be and contribute as much as I can. I’m going to enter my book cover into the Zibby Owens —

Zibby: — Yes, the Zibby Awards! Please do. I love your cover.

Samantha: It was drawn by Nick Egan.

Zibby: I saw that on your website. Yes, he did The Clash.

Samantha: He’s amazing. I just called him up. He was terrified to do it because he thought, what if I don’t like it? He’s British. He’s really funny. He came up with that from one of the scenes in the book, obviously. I just thought it was so perfect. I said, “That’s it. Just do it.” I was really happy with it. He’s an amazing talent. I was really thrilled that he supported me in that.

Zibby: Samantha, thank you. Thank you for coming on for Blind Pony. Thanks for being so open. Thanks for using your story to help other people and even entertain along the way. Thank you so much.

Samantha: Thank you. Nice meeting you.

Zibby: Have a great day. Bye.

Samantha: You too. Bye.

Samantha Hart, BLIND PONY

BLIND PONY by Samantha Hart

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