Q & A with Ingrid Hart,
author of My Year In California
What inspired you to write this book?
Both of my two children left for college at the same time. Making this empty nest syndrome worse was being single. I was lonely, isolated and disconnected. I knew there had to be something more than the safe and comfortable life I created for myself. I visited a healer who said “If you want something to change, make a new choice.” I chose to sell my home, travel across California and write a book about this experience.
What surprised you most about your experience?
Two things: The first is my intense focus when I set a long-term goal. Yikes. I’m like a dog with a bone. I can’t let go, even if it’s to my own detriment. Planning and going on the journey was the easy part. The hard part was learning how to write the book. It took every ounce of my emotional energy and financial resources, to bring this elixir from the underworld into the middle world. Luckily, I had a lot of support from many people along the way. I’m so grateful to everyone who touched my life in the last four years. The second thing that surprised me is how many women and men are asking the same questions I did before I launched on the journey. Why am I so restless? Is there more to life than this? Am I living my life’s purpose? In the 45 – 60 age group these questions are universal.
What is a midlife renewal?
My book is about the passageway between the first half of life and the second half of life. I call this passageway “midlife renewal.” Some people call it a midlife crisis, and maybe it is. Whatever you want to call it, one thing’s for sure—it’s a painful process. There is much suffering. It is a time when our careers stagnate, our marriages are not fulfilling, the children leave home, our parents are aging. The things that mattered in the first half of life, no longer hold meaning. We become restless. We recognize that the time we have left to live, is shorter than the time we’ve actually lived. We want to change our lives, but we just don’t know how to do it. I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a lot of questions, and I share those with my readers.
What cities did you live in?
I lived in Tahoe City in summer; Yountville, in the Napa Valley for the grape harvest; Bishop in the Eastern Sierra for the fall colors; Noe Valley in San Francisco; Carmel for Christmas; Palm Springs in winter; San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter; Venice in Los Angeles to be near my friend Sassy; the Gold Rush town of Mariposa near Yosemite; Arcata on the far North Coast where I once went to Humboldt State University; Cedarville in extreme Northeastern California because it’s so remote; and Ojai—the womb of California near Santa Barbara.
How did you select the 12 cities you lived in?
It sounds more scientific than it actually was. I segmented the state into geographic regions: mountain, desert, gold country, wine country, two major metropolitan cities, and then extreme northeastern California. The logic devolved from there—super cool artisan city and then where my friend Sassy lives. The time of year I would live in each city also guided my selection. I’m a bluebird and believe that snow has only one purpose and that’s for skiing, not to live in. So Lake Tahoe in winter was out—too much snow, but Lake Tahoe in summer, now that inspired me. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Palm Springs in summer was out of the question—way too hot, but Palm Springs in winter, now that felt good. With this endless summer outlook I cobbled together a plan where I wanted to live and at what time.
What city was your favorite?
I can’t answer this question. Each city had at least one quality that made it special. After exploring every part of California, I found some extraordinary places in the Golden State. It’s sort of cliché, but California is so diverse. I love the redwoods, the ocean, and the desert—all of it. The people I met along the way made a huge difference in each city too.
Which city was the most difficult to live in?
Palm Springs. The image of Moses and the Israelites wandering the desert for 40 years was on my mind. These desert pilgrims were not lost in terms of location and direction of travel. No. According to the Book of Exodus, God himself directed their movement and provided for them. And so it was with me, I was not hungry: I had plenty of my comfort food: Top Ramen and broccoli; I was not thirsty: the water in Palm Springs comes from a natural hot mineral water aquifer and is tasty. I was just kind of aimless in the desert.
What did you learn?
Every step of the journey is the journey. There is no beginning and there is no end. Our lives unfold daily. If we are present, awake and aware for our choices, we can change the trajectory of our lives. We are way more powerful than we allow ourselves to believe. The most important lesson I learned on the journey is one I already knew. Remain in present moment awareness. There is only one time, and it is now.