Martie McNabb, “Heartist”: Holding Space for Story-Sharing and Listening

I’ve found a partial solution to how to blog while experiencing a COVID-19 pandemic-related form of writers’ block: I’m sharing resources offered by friends/colleagues who are finding their own ways to help “ordinary” people cope in such an extraordinary time.

Martie McNabb

In a world where meeting with others in person has become Russian Roulette, one of my friends from the world of personal historians is hosting virtual events that nourish the human heart—and helping others do so too.

Brooklyn (the Van)

Martie McNabb, formerly of Brooklyn, NY and now living part-time in rural Vermont and Brooklyn (the RV), has been dubbed a “Heartist” for her unique blend of creative pursuits. When we first met as members of the Association of Personal Historians, her work involved creating visual narratives from client’s photo, document, and memorabilia archives. Before long, she was developing her signature story-sharing events, dubbed Show & Tales. Now, she’s coaching others to use these events to build their community and drive new business opportunities.

“It’s like Antiques Roadshow meets The Moth,” Martie says of Show & Tales. What makes these events unique is that people bring a special photo or object and share its story for up to five minutes. The room fills with laughter, tears, and camaraderie, as people bond over recalling memories triggered by each “show-er.”

Martie originally launched Show & Tales after she attended some storytelling events, but found them restrictive. “I wondered, ‘Why no props, no objects? Why can’t things be shown and a story told about them?’” she said. Martie uses the term story-sharing, not story-telling to differentiate the Show & Tale ethos. “It’s nice to come to a space where the stories aren’t practiced.”

Martie chose a friend’s bar, the Branded Saloon, in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, for her first event, creating a casual atmosphere where guests could relax, sit back, and listen. There’s no pressure to “deliver” or “perform” the story. “Look-ers”—the people who come just to look and listen—are just as welcome as “show-ers.” Both connect on a deep level, bearing witness to the meaning that resides in everyday objects (if you know their story).

She soon learned to focus each event on a pre-set theme, which brought out the common ground among participants’ experience. Themes also made finding event partner-sponsors easier. A natural fit for the theme “Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue” would be a wedding venue, photographer, or planner. Her vacation-themed events make partnering with the travel industry (which is looking for new opportunities these days) easy.

An in-person Show & Tales

Martie envisioned Show & Tales as a way to call attention to her work as a visual artist who “tells stories with other people’s stuff.” She thought it might help her build business, Memories Out of the Box. Then she realized the Show & Tales model could help other artists and legacy professionals (what I call “memory savers”) build their businesses, as well.

She shared the event model with members of the Association of Personal Historians, which offered its members a “grab and go” kit with everything a host needed to organize an event, such as how to select venues, attract attendees, and approach partner-sponsors. “Then I got people reaching out to me, wanting to know how to get people to the events,” Martie said, and that led to the growth of her Show & Tales brand.

“My original model when I decided to start a separate business for Show & Tales was Paint Nite,” Martie said, who admired the way that company gave artists an additional income stream and brand-building opportunity with very little investment required. She prepared to launch Show & Tales nationally with a similar licensing model, but pivoted to a membership model earlier this year. Members who join the Show & Tales community receive access to all marketing collateral, branded merchandise, training to learn how to host their own events and grow their business, and opportunities to collaborate with her on retreats, reunions, and corporate events.

Since its start almost ten years ago, Martie has hosted over 130 Show & Tales in person. When the COVID19 pandemic put in-person events on hold, she moved her events online. Reservations are necessary to receive the log-in link. A donation is suggested, but not required.

An online Show & Tales hosted over Zoom, from inside Brooklyn (the RV).

“Show & Tales is one of the major ways I can be of service” during the pandemic, Martie said. Show & Tales offer a meaningful way to connect with each other, countering isolation and loneliness. The events bring together people from different backgrounds who might not otherwise meet. Superficial differences disappear as stories showcase our shared humanity.

I hope I’ve made you want to attend a Show & Tales event yourself! Find Martie’s schedule of upcoming virtual meetings at her website,

© Martie McNabb and Sarah White

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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1 Response to Martie McNabb, “Heartist”: Holding Space for Story-Sharing and Listening

  1. What a wonderful idea! All of us must have ‘show and tales’ items at home. Each time we look at them they remind us of ….. Thanks!


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