"My Year in California" by Ingrid Hart. (Daily Pilot / December 23, 2013)

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.

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.

"My Year in California" resonates most when it stays grounded; the author's self-deprecation saves it from being a mere travelogue. When Hart tries to work magical realism into her prose — describing moments when divine forces, or even a giant redwood tree, impart wisdom to her — it feels cloying. There are moments, too, when her scenic descriptions ("Laid-back and relaxed, Carmel offers visitors an endless variety of activities") veer into Frommer's territory.

Of course, every city only fits the guidebook description at a distance. In the book's epilogue, Hart returns to Costa Mesa — a city labeled by its tourist bureau as "a unique Southern California getaway" — to help care for her ailing mother. That's the melancholy truth that this "Year" ultimately reveals: One traveler's gleaming destination is another's dutiful homecoming.

—Michael Miller



By Dan Krikorian

Self-released, 10-track LP

If Matt Costa is Huntington Beach's folk music icon, then Dan Krikorian is the equivalent for Costa Mesa.

They're both natives to their respective cities, and both have the ability to produce great folk-pop music that's easy on the ears.

Krikorian's latest LP, "Bloom," just about matches Costa's recent album punch for punch. The 10-track self-released CD (more like nine, since the last song is a 35-second instrumental outro) offers some of the most easygoing songs I've heard all year.

I consider "Bloom" to be a concept album where Krikorian takes you on a journey through the evolution of a relationship. He sings about the ups of being in one, but also wanders through its downsides.

The first song, "Sweet Face," is a simple and quick two-minute piece about reuniting with a long-lost love. Krikorian sings about the struggles of reaching your destination, either physically or mentally, and the reward at the end of that journey.