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The Latest: 'Year' of wandering; 'Bloom' blossoms

December 24, 2013
  • "My Year in California" by Ingrid Hart.
"My Year in California" by Ingrid Hart. (Daily Pilot )

My Year in California

By Ingrid Hart

Commerce Printing; 146 pages

I had a high school English teacher who wrote an inspirational phrase on the blackboard each week. The slogans ranged from Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman to the poster of the movie "Braveheart" ("Every man dies; not every man really lives"). For that matter, our school newspaper was titled Carpe Diem — Latin for "seize the day" — so I graduated well enlightened.

During those heady teenage years, I saw the world as a playground of possibility. Now that I am older and wiser, I perceive the limitations more. Even a denizen of Walden Pond needs to earn a living; Ferris Bueller must eventually return to school and finish the work he missed. As one who once planned a vacation by drawing a quarter from a bag and visiting the state on the back of it, I have my bouts of wanderlust, but I know that wherever I go, I must obey the speed limit.

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This sense of balance runs throughout Ingrid Hart's "My Year in California," a memoir of a journey the author took living in 12 California cities, one per month. Hart, a Costa Mesa resident, begins the story on the verge of turning 48, facing an empty nest and feeling restless. With a professional healer's encouragement and savings at her disposal, the author spends the year living in one picturesque setting after another — a cottage in Carmel, a casita in Palm Springs — and, to quote the title of a similar travel book, eating, praying and loving.

The subtitle of Hart's book is "A Journey Toward Midlife Renewal," and that last word enters the text repeatedly throughout. What kind of renewal is she looking for, exactly? During the first half of "My Year in California," the author's trek often feels aimless; for every moment that points to heightened self-awareness (a visit to the site of the Manzanar Japanese internment camp), there's another that implies pure self-indulgence (at one point, she feels a thrill at stealing a shot glass while on a date with a stranger).

As it turns out, though, Hart is aware of her desultory path, and the book achieves its greatest emotional weight when it deals with the notion of boundaries. In Palm Springs, she finds herself depressed and bored with her trip, finally yearning for a sense of home and purpose. The realization that she comes to by the book's end isn't particularly surprising, but at least it brings a sense of closure.

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