Mary Hendra is a Los Angeles based program director at Facing History in Ourselves where she serves over a thousand schools reaching five hundred thousand students each year in Southern California. She recently started move with Grace a unique Master Class designed to find Clarity and regain power in our world Through Stillness creativity and community. She is also a part of the leadership team of elevate LA and active facilitator for a next big idea book group and runs an amazing podcast book club where we first met and she also spent time in what was then the Soviet Union with a family of four generations of women.
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Alice: Mary Hendra is a Los Angeles based program director at Facing History in Ourselves where she serves over a thousand schools reaching five hundred thousand students each year in Southern California. She recently started move with Grace a unique Master Class designed to find Clarity and regain power in our world Through Stillness creativity and community. She is also a part of the leadership team of elevate LA and active facilitator for a next big idea book group and runs an amazing podcast book club where we first met and she also spent time in what was then the Soviet Union with a family of four generations of women. Welcome Mary. We are so excited to have you on the podcast today.
Mary: Thank you so much for having me. It is so exciting to be here.
Alice: Thank you for being here. We just kind of start off with some more fun questions. So what is your favorite word in the dictionary?
Mary: The first word that comes to mind is the word flummoxed which I discovered in college and I think that like I resonate with it at the time it felt like just complete like, “wheew, like what am I going to do next?”
Alice: I think that is such a good word. It kind of is like that onomatopoeia in a way because you are just flummoxed.
Mary: And it is not usually enough, right?
Alice: Yeah. I should use that way more.
And since you have this podcast for Club, what is your favorite podcast for just for fun?
Mary: Yeah. Just for fun one that I have got hooked on early in my podcast listening is Harry Potter and the sacred texts, which… I started teaching about Harry Potter when it would not stay on my shelves as a teacher and these two former divinity students from Harvard go through chapter at a time and they connect to current events and they talked about their personal stories and they just… It is just a really lovely podcast that is a great release for me when I need to step back from everything else going on in my world.
Alice: That is so cool. That sounds perfect for right now. And Harry Potter always. Yeah.
Mary: There is so much resonance in different ways right and you know controversially to its perfectly poised for really diving in deep and saying okay like it is not perfect. A perfect world, that is like a world so we can learn from it.
Alice: Yeah. That makes complete sense. And can you talk about what is your favorite podcast for your podcast book club or pod club?
Mary: Yeah. Well. Which is hard because every time we meet then women share the podcasts they are listening to. So every month I get new podcast that I want to listen to. Right?
There was one time where one of the people who had been on a previous monthly call recommended the podcast Happiness Lab with Laurie Santos. So a couple months later we chose the theme of joy as our theme for Let’s Explore podcast that tell us about joy. So I put that one in there and it gave me an opportunity to listen to it and I listen to an episode that was like ditch the alarm clock which is always a good plan for me. It was a really nice combination of the science behind and very practical ideas and just compassion for being a human in this world.
Alice: Oh, that is awesome. Okay. We are all going to have to listen to that. Especially now in this crazy time we are living in.
Mary: It is going to be a good one.
Alice: Okay. What is your favorite place you have ever traveled?
Mary: I love traveling to so this is in… I already seen these questions, like my issues, so many interests in this discussions.
Mary: I do love traveling. I will say though probably my favorite is not… My mom grew up in Switzerland and while –
Mary: – I did not grow up in Switzerland, like it has an extra special place in my heart and the best chocolate store in the entire world. So…
Alice: Oh my gosh. That is a reason to just like live there forever.
Mary: Pretty much. Yeah.
Alice: Wow. That is amazing. My sister is actually living there right now. She is in Dunegan next to Bern. I do not know.
Alice: Where did you – where did your mom grow up?
Mary: She grew up in Zurich.
Mary: That is where the main chocolate store is that I heartily recommend. My sister and I also spent a summer there one year at a finishing school for young women.
Mary: We did not do very well in the finishing school. In fact, got in trouble in all sorts of things. I think we even broke one of the beds but we did learn a little bit of German and a little bit of French and made some good friends from other parts of the world.
Alice: Wow. Wait, I have so many questions. What did you learned at a finishing school?
Mary: During the summer, they really focused more on language.
Mary: It was foreign language. During during this, they tried to sneak in some different things about, how do you protect yourself as a young woman.
Mary: My sister go over while I was in Middle School. I am really just was not as interested in those ones. Those lessons did not stick but a little bit –
Alice: That is amazing.
Mary: – of German and a little bit of French.
Alice: I just like I have only heard of those in fairy tales, but that is incredible.
Okay. So you are living in LA now. Can you talk about like what are some of your favorite parts of the city?
Mary: Yeah. So one of the things I love about Los Angeles is that you can find everything here and there are so many different people, different activities, different practices, different beliefs and I am super curious, so I love finding new things and whether its environmental and great mountains, beaches, all of that or the cultural events. I just find it all fabulous.
Alice: How is it feeling right now during COVID? How is the city changed?
Mary: Now, it is definitely a tough time and I live in downtown Los Angeles. So downtown has been hard hit by the shifts in people’s lives. Where there once was a lot of activity during the day, now people are working from home. There is a residential community in downtown but it is not large enough to sustain all of the restaurants and retail. So there is much that is boarded up and a lot of small business owners who are struggling during this time. So very different feel than the activity and vibrancy that it usually had.
Alice: Oh man. Yeah. Because LA, like you said, it has everything. It has the beach and it has the mountains. Do you have a favorite restaurant that we should all try and get to if we are in LA?
Mary: I do. My favorite restaurant in Downtown LA is a little hole in the wall called Woodspoon. It is a Brazilian restaurant and the owner, came from Brazil, is one of the sweetest women that I know and she is a fabulous cook and her Brazilian chicken pot pie was featured on the TV show, The Best Thing I Ever Ate.
Mary: It is really unique. What we also love though is just going there for a day of great Brazilian girls. They have some vegetarian options and Natalia just creates a beautiful compassionate space to bring people together.
Alice: What is it again? The Wooden Spoon?
Mary: It is called Woodspoon.
Mary: I think that the website is woodspoon la dot com.
Alice: Oh, amazing. I have to try that pot pie now. It sounds so good. That is amazing. What have you been up to during quarantine?
Mary: Sure. I am working from home as well. So I have been at home doing things.
I find a number of different things that really captivate my heart and keep me in a doing different things. I do love reading, particularly reading with my husband and I can highly recommend the book reading, I Running with Sherman. When I give that one a big shout out, it is like a donkey with a heart and is a really great human story and read aloud story if you have anybody read aloud with. I have also been like… For me, during quarantine has been really important to stay connected with people.
You mentioned Ellevate Network and the Pod Club. I really make sure that during this time I was connecting with other women and contributing and it has been during that time that I leaned into that and let me help more and let me help bring more events because I know virtual events. I do a lot of virtual events anyway. And then my sanity keeper with throughout is crafting and painting and being…
Mary: Having different things that I create. I am not necessarily very good at any of them, but I do like creating and there is something that is really calming for me about a ball of yarn or getting some beads or getting out my… I paint with my hands as often as I paint with a brush.
Mary: That kind of thing.
Alice: What have you been painting? Do you just paint like landscapes or modern?
Mary: Wow. Painting sound so much more formal than what I — I use paint on stuff.
Alice: That is so cool.
Mary: The more accurate way to say it. Sometimes it creates more images, but sometimes it is just getting paint in to different places so that I can process things well. I am thinking about things while I am painting.
Alice: That is so cool. Wow. That is really interesting. Yeah. I found that like I didn’t have any hobbies before this and because I was just too busy, like never sitting down but now I have a thousand. So… I was like, “oh, let me try knitting, let me try beading.”
Mary: I still need bigger houses –
Alice: I know.
Mary: – for our hobbies.
Alice: I am still unto knitting one square, but I cannot knit anything else but a square. So right now it is like a blanket. I did a scarf.
Mary: My mother-in-law is the first one who taught me to work with [inaudible] crochet and so she tell me to try crochet.
Alice: Oh cool.
Mary: And her first role was only flat things. That is where I am at.
Alice: That is awesome. And since you are working from home, can you tell us a little bit about your professional journey? I know you have been at Facing History. You have been a teacher and you are kind of moving into some different spheres. Can you talk a little bit about it?
Mary: Sure. And what else is I have… So my career has been included a really strong base in civic engagement in an education, like from when I first graduated from college and I work for the county of Los Angeles which actually just made history. Now that they, as of the last election, are a fully female board of supervisors.
Alice: What? That is awesome.
Mary: Yeah. I am so proud of them and proud of us. Right? When I was there, there was one female supervisor, Gloria Molina, and and so that is where I started with really, like heart of, serving my community and bringing people together and then transitioned into teaching. In part through some volunteer work with the LA commission on assaults against women in their teen abuse prevention program where –
Mary: – topic that really trying to say is we can have healthier relationships. I along the way became certified in mediation and facilitated victim-offender mediation where there were youth offenders. I will say I have not done that profession in a wire or even as a volunteer for a while. The skills of really listening to people and bringing people together has been something I have used really throughout and then I have encountered facing history when I was teaching. Another teacher told me about them using history. Really tries to say history is not inevitable.
The choices that we make as individuals make a difference and that is such an important message for students that it really was something important for my students that are living in downtown Los Angeles to hear it. As I went through continued teaching, it went my transition from using facing history in my classroom in different schools to being on staff with Facing History. I have been there now.
Alice: Wow. Amazing.
Mary: I will say it professionally I am still a hundred percent committed to civic engagement to raising the voices of those who have been marginalized and to education. But also a few years ago, I started feeling a bit more impelled to be more visible in the world. It just say like is someone who is –
Mary: – a shy introvert that was strange things. Like pushing myself a little bit out of my comfort zone. But it has been really interesting and that is where Move with Grace came from.
Alice: Can you talk a little bit about that? What is Move with Grace?
Mary: So Move with Grace is my kind of creation and sharing a bit more of some ways of how I move through the world. It is a recognition that we all face transitions that can raise our anxiety and stress. We have all seen that this year. We were all kind of…
The things that cause that transition we did not ask for or seek.
When I was starting to think about this and talk about it, it was more in line with thinking of personal transitions. Right? Whether it is a loss of a loved one that leads us to a different personal space, whether it is a professional transition with a career pivot but those transitions that cause us to really look within ourselves and make a new choice can sometimes feel really painful. What I had found for me was that tapping into not just verbal not just like okay, like journal of that. I am like, “yeah, there is a blank page everyday in my…
That was not sufficient to me and I just recognized we do not always think in words. Right? Our thinking or processing happens long before we have the words to articulate them. So how do we tap into that? How? I think a lot of people talk about like the physical or you know sometimes going for a run or observe. Excuse me.
Doing yoga helps and that is definitely part of our kinesthetic in a processing but there is more than that. I think we do not stop doing physical exercise when we realize we are not going to be a professional athlete.
Did any of us stop using paint being visual, being aesthetic when we are lucky? I am not an artist. Hey.
Mary: So Move with Grace changes that. We are not being artists. It is not about that. But let us use all the tools available to us and we are faced with these painful transitions so that we can make it through in a way that is true to ourselves.
Alice: That is interesting. So that is your part that is creativity with using the paint to understand these transi[tions]. Okay. So can you talk a little bit about those three words that you chose for Move with Grace? Creativity, stillness, community. What brought you to those specifically?
Mary: Yeah. So in your right the creativity like it is paint. I also do some things so it is more kinesthetic with paper and collage in glue and different things that way. Even just sometimes manipulating our words rather than just writing them in a linear fashion. So that is creativity and it is said a double use because I have also found that like when my professional team is struggling to be more innovative, these kind of things strategies help –
Mary: – creativity to. It is creativity both in tool and in results.
Alice: That is so cool.
Mary: And then I would say community comes in part from seeing the impact of relationships. For me that started in what was then the Soviet Union, as you mentioned in my bio, with really building a different kind of relationship between women and then using that to think about how do I build community with my co-workers, with my community, as a teacher with other teachers, as a leader in education and it dovetails with stillness. I do and I read that there is someone that I really enjoy what they write about stillness and that is Ryan Holiday. I think we are not… When I’m thinking of stillness, this is the kind of definition I think of. He wrote one point that it includes to be steady while the world spins around you, to act without frenzy, to hear only what needs to be heard, that quiet moment when inspiration hits you, the ability to step back and reflect, making room for gratitude and happiness. So that was… That is my definition goes with that and in a quick term I think for me it is how do you find that sense of calm even in chaos. Between what I saw in the Soviet Union and –
Mary: – it is pinching like we create it. Right?
Mary: It is creating that sense of calm and chaos.
Alice: Wow. I think there is such a need for stillness right now and I think for some of us, we are experiencing it for the first time. I know just living in New York City, it is all about this frenetic energy of how can you be doing a million things at once but then to have to pause because of covid. I think is a really interesting concept and think about our lives and what are we up to, what is going on and to have that moment. I think it is really interesting.
Mary: There is an epic quote. I do not have it in front of me but that reminded me of the links to music. Right? I played music for many years. I played piano and then learn the guitar when I was in Russia. This quote says something to the effect of there is no sound, there is no music in the pause, in the rest that you might see on a score and musical score, but there is music in the making of it and that sense of when you think about this beautiful musical pieces if there was not a rest, if there were not pauses in that music, we would not be able to take in the rest of the gorgeousness of that music.
Mary: Sometimes it is parallel for us in our lives. If we never have that pause, we are not our full selves. We are not giving everything we can. People can appreciate it if we do not have that. It is part of life. It is not with brawl from.
Alice: Wow. That is a really lovely view to think about. Yeah. Having that for motto and you just have to sit and wait. I guess that is what we are all in right now. How can we take something away from that which I think is interesting and what you are saying how can we like use this stillness to move forward or think about something in a different way which is cool.
Alice: What brought you to the Soviet Union? Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Mary: So I lived in… I actually went three times. So the first time was when I was in college. I went for four months. This was the…. I mean the first one that I could have been… How do you end up – how do you end up there? For me, it started in high school. I was in high school when Ronald Reagan was president. I know that is putting me but you already knew I was in that group because of the name Soviet Union. So my social studies teachers when echo what President Reagan said, “I am calling it the evil empire.”
I have to say I am not Russian. There are no Russian roots in my family that I have ever discovered, but there was something in my little heart that was like I just cannot believe the people are that bad. I was a junior in high school at that point. I chose a college that had an abroad program where I could go to Russia.
Mary: I could learn Russian. I spent three years studying Russian so that when I went there I would understand people in their own language. My communication got better over the time, but then my…
Mary: My priority was understanding them not being able to communicate my ideas, so it was all right. Then I chose a program, which this was perhaps one of the hardest things at that time, I chose a programmer. I would live with a family –
Mary: – in the dorm rooms and at that point because of this structure, like most cases, there was a lot of separation. We were pretty sure that one of our professors was also a KGB agent and we knew that all of our mailgun opened before it got to us.
Mary: These are the things you lived with but I left out. I lived with a family that was not trying to marry me to their son. That was a mother and daughter were the ones I lived with and they were part of four generations of women. So grandmother and great-grandmother very –
Mary: – alive but not in our home. So they… It was this that they taught me how to play the guitar because that point we did not go out for entertainment. So people come over and you end up with three guitars and everybody is singing Russian folk songs and lead us in –
Mary: – those were like the most things and a few American anti-war songs and that is when others came in but that was the repertoire.
Mary: They taught me so much when I was there and then I went back three years later when I was getting my master’s degree in international public administration.
Mary: At that point I was working for the County of Los Angeles so my master’s thesis compared Russian and American local government. So I was there when Yeltsin was president. He… During the time I was there, the new constitution came out. So I got to study that for the country. I was also in the country when Yeltsin dissolve parliament and sent tanks rolling down the street.
Alice: Oh my gosh.
Mary: I fortunately, for long exams we needed out our pockets, I had decided to add that right before that [inaudible] of the weekend before I had decided to move from Moscow back to St. Petersburg which had become gun from Leningrad to St. Petersburg. The family I had lived with the first time was in St. Petersburg, so I decided to move back to them and gratefully was there during the upheaval. The first shots fired at as a result of the unrest were –
Mary: – usually at the Metro stop that I had walked to every morning in Moscow.
Alice: Oh my gosh.
Mary: And I, instead was in St. Petersburg with amazing women who had gone through her own travails during the upheaval but was safe at that time. Then four years later, I went back just for three weeks just to visit them.
Alice: Wow. That is amazing. What were the biggest differences and similarities that you solve between the women that you were staying with?
Mary: Let us say one of the things for me that was a big contrast. I grew up everything about my dad. Right? My dad and I were very close and so I am… I love my mother, I love my sister but my dad and I were the ones that were the closest relation in. He had raised us, both my sister and I, to know we could do anything that has that a guy could do. Right?
Mary: That in some ways was the feminism right at that. My mom was amazing. She broke so many glass ceilings professionally, right? So I had grown up with that. In the Soviet Union, what I saw was that the women were… They had an entirely different definition of feminism, but they were such bedrock power that with the country literally crumbling around them politically, economically. We had food shortages. I would stand in line for two hours to get into a grocery story.
Mary: Toilet paper shortages. We had nothing on them. Right?
Mary: Remarkable. What was passed off as toilet paper during that time because it just was not available, right? It was the women in the society who would keep things together and keep families together, but keep the society moving through in a business deals over the kitchen table and through guiding people and what they should be doing next or how they should prepare in making their own deals and functions and even in things. The second time I was there, the city was shutting down water on a regular basis. Your water in your entire –
Mary: – multiple block radius would be shut down for two weeks. Right? Give it was one day, like okay, you would not shower that day.
Mary: But this is two weeks. So but you know what… We would connect. It was amazing like we did. Invite ourselves over to another woman’s house for tea and a shower.
Mary: It was like, this is how the government may not be working right now, our infrastructure may not be working right now, but women were going to keep society moving in whatever ways where necessary.
Alice: Wow. That is amazing. It is so comfortable to now but still but so different to. Yeah. We have nothing on the toilet paper shortages we had.
Mary: We created that ourselves.
Mary: You also asked about similarities and the differences [inaudible]. I started with this but similarities like we really are all people that are making those connections and so my little high school heart was vindicated, right? The people were not bad. Right? Yes there were political strife and political differences, but the individuals when they invited you into their home, it did not matter that there were shortages and you could not get milk without a doctor’s note, you had a child under the age of three and think these different things like I didn’t never such it can in a store but I saw it when I was invited over to people’s homes and that connection I see it in Elevate Network where women are willing to just help each other out. I see it in teaching and education, with everything that teachers are giving for their students. It was in my experience in Russia as well. All three times I have individuals who think that is what it means to be human as you connect with people and you form things together and you care about each other.
Alice: Wow. That is amazing. And I think something that kind of ties together, something that we always ask about on this podcast is what is your definition of womanhood? You kind of gave a definition for just a human being, but what would you say is womanhood?
Mary: I would say and I will shift it a little bit but I would say womanhood is powerful. Womanhood is the strength to be the connectors that form the fabric of a society and that keep us grounded and allow us to move forward. My shift is that I would say that is how I now define femininity and it is available to everyone.
Alice: Yeah. That makes so much sense. Oh, that is wonderful.
Alice: Yeah. If you had any advice to a woman that you just met on the street and you just had a few sentences to give her, what would you say to her?
Mary: I would say to lean in to who you are as a woman. I have definitely had experiences where I was trying to either fit into a male definition of success or had male mentors who meant well, but their way of doing things is not my way of doing things. Example one of my first mentor teachers, he was a coach too. Right? So if a student was not behaving he would say drop and give me twenty. I have no zero credibility to even say that phrase. Twenty what? I do not…
Mary: But that is okay, right? As I grew into who I was and how I could be in the world, it is absolutely possible to be both strong and feminine and I think that is part of what we bring to the world. It is definitely part of what I try and do with Move with Grace is really giving that space for us to grow in community, for us to lean into who we authentically are and grow this strength from that to take action. So lean into who you are as a woman.
Alice: Amazing. Thank you so much Mary. Is there anything else you would like to add to our listeners?
Mary: Well first off, I just want to thank you again for inviting me to be on this podcast. But I will also say thank for your listeners as well. I put together something that I think can help if you are, like me, flummoxed and at any point, in trying to deal with all of this stuff that we have, all of the anxiety and stress that comes from outside and internal and I have just had one of those really bad days, I highly recommend remembering you have all of these tools available. Your journal does not need to be just words. You can use different things and if you need extra help in doing that put something together that I can give to your listeners.
Alice: Amazing. How can they find out about your work?
Mary: So the resource I just mentioned that you can get. I created a tiny URL. So it is tinyurl.com/mkhendra and you can also follow me on instagram @MKHendra, which is where I think I try to have some of my multi passionate. All of these different things that are me. So you will see some randomness there, but I do pretty consistently try and share ideas for journaling and different ways to be able to really create more clarity for yourself and therefore take action so that you are not stuck.
Alice: Perfect. Thank you so much Mary. It was so lovely to have you on.
Mary: Thank you. Thanks again for having me.