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  • Writer's pictureKevin Cordi

Up close and personal: an interview with Pleasant DeSpain

Updated: Dec 24, 2019

We are rewarded today by talking with someone who knows the power of story. We can learn from his insight and journey. I invite you to come on board as we learn from Pleasant DeSpain.

Note: *I am so happy to report on Thursday on January 23 at 7:00 PM EST I will be hosting Pleasant DeSpain. Free for YES member with the National Storytelling Network ( For others, only $15.00 see this link for more

Read on to find out more how you can be involved in the call.

What is the difference between telling stories and using stories to guide our life?

Telling and using stories present two different roads. Many of us “tell” to entertain, educate, inspire, and help heal. We may earn a living with our telling or practice the art and craft for the reward of sharing.

“Using” stories as personal guides creates another pathway. Often in tandem with our programs, we choose tales that align with our personal goals and beliefs.

I’ve honored hundreds of requests over these many years for permission to share my signature story, “Old Joe & the Carpenter. (In the tellers’ own words, naturally). The building of bridges vs. walls demonstrates a choice made by someone willing to make a difference. It’s one of the many reasons that stories worth telling resonate with our listeners. And these stories, as personal guides, are constant reminders of who we are and what we can be.

However, when we “tell” from a place of immaturity or doubt, a place of pain and regret, a place that lacks personal “truth,” the story offered tends to fall flat. It’s just another story told. Nothing more.

When we share from a life truly lived, a hard-won reality, our authentic selves, it’s never just another story told. It’s a genuine celebration of telling and listening. We most fortunate listeners hear YOU.

I’ve often heard that music is made by “the space between the notes.” Does the same apply to storytelling?

Stories, when shared aloud, are made by the breath carrying the words. The strength of the inhale, the ease of the exhale, and the pace of the unfolding narrative creates the success of every tale told. Or, its failure.

Words are breath put into form in order to communicate. Words can be deceptive as you craft a story, but your breath must always tell it as it is, as you are, on the day and in that hour. The Native Americans of the Seminole tribe describe the Creator as “Breathmaker”—the Grandfather of All Things.

Honoring “Breathmaker” when sharing stories, I take in the whole of my audience with my eyes before I speak. Consciously and with a smile, I inhale a long and lovely breath. Then, slowly and gently, I exhale fully, keeping my listeners in sight and heart. Now is the moment for all involved to begin the following inhale. Now is the time for the greeting with words, as now is the moment that my listeners and I are breathing the same breath.

What has silence taught you?

The word ‘silent’ contains the word ‘listen.’

Silence, the absence of sound, is a misnomer. Sound, both inward and outward, prevails always.

My morning meditations bring more than the striving for silence but offer the sound of the voice within, my higher self, my guardians, the Creator, herself.

Silence has given me a vital and ever-expanding gift, the willingness to listen. Setting aside the time and space to turn off the noisy outside world, sitting comfortably, closing my eyes, and consciously surrendering my breath, I begin inwardly repeating my soundless mantra. I let go and indeed, let God.

Silence has given me ears to hear, eyes to see, and heart to feel. Silence has taught me the nature of genuine love.

Two champions of story -Margaret Read MacDonald and Pleasant

What advice would I give someone deciding that it’s time to pursue storytelling as a practice, art form, life pursuit?

My birth family’s motto: “Life is hard, and it’s worth it.”

Storytelling as a career is hard, and it’s worth it. The big question involved is, are you willing to pay the price? The old Spanish proverb, ‘Take what you want, but pay for it,” is relevant here.

As the universe teaches, there is a price on everything. Talent, time, money, hard work, practice, practice, practice, failure, and disappointment are some of the costs involved. A growing belief in self and in your audiences, successes, and joys provides rewards.

What I love about storytelling as a career is that every one of us is a natural-born teller of tales. Our lives are our stories and when we share our stories, we share our lives. Wouldn’t be wonderful if our country so believed in the inherent value of stories told aloud that the National Department of Storytelling existed. Chosen performers would have a good income, health care, and lengthy holidays! Our job description: Go forth and tell!

Unfortunately, in our real world, those who choose to create a career with stories must do it the hard way, forging his/her path and overcoming obstacles by doing the work involved. Fortunately, the end result-reward is gratifying beyond belief. Even so, I believe in it. I believe in you.

5. What should storytellers always have with them?

Calm at the center.

Stories are creations born from chaos, pieced together to form structure (beginning-middle-end), and polished to shine in performance. The teller arrives at the venue full of hope and anticipation. The listeners sit, full of hope and anticipation. With eyes and ears focused on the teller, she/he begins.

The teller, at the focal point of the energy, words, and breath of the shared experience must convey calm at the center, creating trust for the listeners.

“Ah, yes,” the listener might reflect, “She/he knows what this is about. Tell me more. What happens next?”

We all have a ‘center’ within our bodies, minds, spirits, and hearts. The center, a sacred place, keeps us safe from the storms of three-dimensional life.

Remaining calm and in control of the story-experience provides the gift for both teller and listener of genuine connection. And connection is our goal.

*I am so happy to report on Thursday on January 23 at 7:00 PM EST I will be hosting Pleasant DeSpain. Free for YES member with the National Storytelling Network ( For others, only $15.00 see this link for more

If you would like to be interviewed or have a story-based program that you would like to spotlight, share with us. We would love to hear your story. We also invite comments on this and any other post. Tell on! You can contact Kevin on the contact page on the site.

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