I grew up on a farm in the small town of Oxford, PA in a very strict Southern Baptist family. Though I excelled in school and gymnastics, I couldn't wait to get away. I dreamed of living in a city, having a rock band, and hitting the big time. Trouble was, my parents were convinced an electric guitar would lead me to drugs. When I was 15, Dad bought a house near Ocean City, MD, and that's where I fell in love for the first time and started writing good songs (subject to opinion).
I went to college in Nashville, TN to pursue my dream of rock stardom (Nashville? Audra, are you sure you weren't trying to be a country music star? Weird, I know.) It was the only music hub my parents would consider--L.A. was too far away, NYC scared them--so I enrolled in Belmont University's Music Business program.
While studying to obtain a degree Business with an emphasis on the Music Industry that was centered right down the road from campus, so close that i you had an internship with a record company, you could walk, I formed my first band, Merry Madness. We were only together for 1.5 years, but toured the South East and appeared on the revival of Star Search with MTV's Martha Quinn hosting the band portion. After we lost, the drummer quit and the bassist went to jail for drunk driving, so we broke up. All the while I worked at various gymnastics gyms and had a very short stint as a waitress (I won a contest for the world's worst). Unfortunately, Merry Madness never recorded anything but a few demos. I managed to cobble together my first solo album called, "The 10 Incantations."
After graduation, I formed my second band, Audra & the Antidote. At first we sucked, but we took good photos, so we always got feature in the local scene mags. Then we started to actually sound good. Meanwhile the internet was just beginning to flex its muscles that would eventually knock the music business down and make it crawl.
Unable to forget about my first love, I searched the web. The primitive search engines (anyone remember Ask Jeeves?) managed to produce ten to twenty possibilities. I emailed each of them until I found him in California and we started emailing.
I uploaded one of our mp3's to a new music site that was connected to a new cable TV show: Jimmy & Doug's Farm Club (The Jimmy was the legendary Jimmy Iovine of Interscope records). Not long afterward, my lost love decided to move back to the East Coast, but I talked him into stopping by Nashville on his way to see me. He did and stayed. Meanwhile The Farm Club wanted us for their show. It was going to be our big break! We were flown to L.A., treated like rock stars, played with Creed and Godsmack, and when the show aired... nothing happened. My love found a job in Tampa and asked me to come, but I couldn't. My dream of stardom was so close to coming true!
We kept up a long distance relationship for a year. In the meantime I submitted (online again), to another contest. But this was no ordinary contest. This had been fifteen years in the making by Dick Clark. It was to be the American Music Awards' New Music Awards and it was going to be a big deal. Like, huge. Dick Clark was going to present the semi-finals in front of a sea of record company executives during the first day of the most prestigious music conference in the country.
My long distance long moved back in with me. A month later I jumped around the tiny apartment like a pogostick when I got the FedEx informing me that the band was selected for the semi-finals. Hurray! This was going to be it. All we had to do was wait for the date. We were going to be flown to NYC and play in front of the sea of record company execs and fly out to Manhattan on Sept. 12... 2001.
Well, if you didn't catch the date, look again. On Sept 12, all flights were grounded, so we weren't going anywhere. The dozen or so other bands started emailing each other because no one knew what was going on. Finally after a week we learned that it was to be rescheduled along with the whole music conference. Unfortunately, because it had to be rescheduled, Dick Clark couldn't be there and our performance couldn't be the first day of the conference anymore. It had to be the day before. So, instead of playing for a sea of record company execs, we played for a sea of firemen, who got into the show for free in a gesture of goodwill and hope. We didn't make it into the top three who went on to a national tour and everyone in the venue who saw our performance just couldn't believe it.
Later I heard that it was because we didn't look like we fit the Coca-Cola image. I wore low-cut skin tight outfits, and Emmy our bassist, was (and still is) a lesbian. When we were in the top 50, I even had to sub out a long because the very first line was, "Stevie always said that he was a lesbian trapped within the body of a man." I had no idea why they wanted me to sub it then only after I pressed them did they admit it was because I said, "lesbian." Oh how times have changed!
It dramatically affected our morale unlike the producer's studio that caught on fire while doing our demo, or the other producer who actually died while working on our project. Maybe the universe was trying to tell us something. The drummer quit, we got another, were in talks with an indie label who came out to see one of our last--and most disastrous--performances. The very last one the new drummer had quit, Emmy wasn't available, so we had our old drummer and our old bassist subbing, for a show that was like an audition for a spot in the upcoming local music conference which last year we had to turn down because we were in NYC and *maybe* going to go on tour. We only rehearsed one night but I thought they remembered the stuff. I was wrong. Afterwards we laughed our asses off until a week later when I learned that we didn't even get into the conference. Yeah. Big nail in the coffin. Huge.
I halfheartedly looked for another drummer, but by then I was over it. My love and I started a web design and hosting business and we actually started to make money. Then I sang a Wendy's radio commercial that earned me way more money than I ever made with the band (which rounded to zero). By that time, I was 29. I had always said I wanted to have a baby before I was 30. One month before my 30th b-day we conceived Quinn. Two months after his birth we left Nashville for Maryland's Eastern Shore. I've never written another song.
Two years later we incorporated and changed our business name to Karma Technologies, after our newly developed inhouse CMS, Karma CMS. At that point our business had over 1200 active hosting clients. Three months later after a date night when Grandma kept Quinn, I went to bed. The next thing I knew I was back on the couch with Mike in front of me saying, "There's something very wrong with you and there's an ambulance on its way." I had no memory of it, but apparently I had a grand mal seizure and he had to carry me down the stairs over his shoulder.
A few hours and a couple tests later, a lady doctor came to my side and said, "You have a mass in your brain." I saw like, "Oh, OK." I didn't get it. After that, a big black guy sporting a blue paisley bandanna and a diamond earring came over to my bedside and described to me how they were going to take out the mass in my brain. He was/is my neurosurgeon, Dr. Pierre, the coolest guy I've ever seen and the one who would save my life. Afterward he asked me if I had any questions. I asked him if there was any chance I could go blind because I thought that would be the worst thing in the world. He said there wasn't, but there was a risk I could lose my short term memory.
They admitted me to the hospital and all of my friends and family came to see me. Even friends from my hometown. I was like, Why are they all here? This isn't a big deal. Monday morning I had the surgery which went very well. We heard word that Dr. Pierre wasn't exactly sure of what he found, because it didn't look like a tumor and sent it off to pathology. It wasn't until an oncologist came in to see me did I really realize what was going on. I had cancer. Brain cancer. How could that be? Cancer didn't run in my family (or so I thought). I ate the right foods and exercised. I was only 33! There must be some mistake!
The mass in my brain did indeed turn out to be cancerous... according to most doctors. That same oncologist thought he was delivering me good news when he announced that with my tumor type I could live another 10 years before it returned. Did I mention I was 33? With a 2.5 year old? (Still, if you are going to have a cancerous brain tumor, the Oligodendroglioma Type II is the best one to have, hands down.)
After I was released a few days later (this was around Christmas time), I went through 30 days of radiation directly to my affected area on my skull. My hair fell out, but only the front part like my bangs the hair that could be covered up by a thick fabric headband. So, guess what I did? I bought a plethora of them.
When I finished the treatment our lives were changed. We not longer were so obsessed with the business and making money. We wanted to actually live and spend time with our child and each other. We significantly rearranged the business to make that happen. I started following the CRON diet since that is the only scientifically documented way to extend your life, and lost a ton of weight (not that I had a lot to lose to begin with). I started working on my bucket list, designed The Hip Klip, and ordered a prototype from Taiwan. Mike's sister loved the idea, and we became business partners. (Today she and her vendors sell them all over the US and Canada at festivals: http://hipklips.com).
Then came another seismic shift in our paradigm. Mike and I watched a documentary film that is a bit dated now, but rocked our world then: A Crude Awakening. We learned about Peak Oil and suddenly things that we'd been hearing about going on in the world started to make sense. The impending shortage of oil was behind everything and a societal collapse was just around the corner so we had to prepare.
My mother-in-law had bought a large piece of land nearby when we were in Nashville and Mike began developing it. At first I refused to leave our house while he built another five miles away. I was pregnant with our second child and our little house in the town of Pittsville (horrible name, I know) had electricity and running water! After Irie was born 2 years plus 2 days after my seizure, Irie and I joined my husband and son at "The Tree Farm" on the first day of spring. However, we didn't have running water until Cinco de Mayo. (I remember this because that day a team of Mexican men titled the bathroom after hooking up the plumbing.)
We started homeschooling Quinn, and taming the land. We learned about gardening, and Mike learned to milk goats. I learned to preserve our harvests by canning, freezing, and making wine and cheese. I learned how to finish out a house from hanging drywall to creating and installing trim. (I can't believe I ever paid someone to install tile. It's so easy!) This all became so much I had to pass the Hip Klip business over to my business partner completely.
Meanwhile, after having Irie my body was a complete wreck. I knew I needed exercise and the only exercise I ever really liked was gymnastics. I knew my old love would save me. I signed up and for three years I worked out with kids who would look at me and say things like, "How old are you?" "37" (at the time). "Wow. You're older than my dad!" Nice.
The Christmas of my third year as an adult gymnast and after my 40th b-day, I wrote the story for a picture book called Galoop-a-Doodle for the kids. I tried to get Quinn to illustrate it. I didn't want to. I tried to get Holly to do it. She was too busy. I decided to just try to do it myself. I used to get the art award in elementary school every year. Maybe I could do it. I did, and they seemed to like it. A lot.
A few months later I finally took a break from they gym when I couldn't walk or stand without pain. I thought it was my hips, but turned out I had a slipped disk in my back that wasn't bad, but could become so. I could only imagine that if I were having that much pain at level one of four how much worse it could get. I took a break from the gym with every intention of returning when my back felt better.
While I sat as much as I could, I couldn't be idle. I began to write a story about a computer programmer who moves from the city to homestead in search of a more meaningful life. Geez. Where did I come up with that one, right? It was coming to me fast than I could type! It was a completely different experience than writing songs, and I loved it. I couldn't wait to get up in the morning and work on it. I felt like I had finally found my true calling.
Mike became curious about what I was always typing, and I let him read what I had at that point. He love it. I decided then and there, that I wanted it to be good, so I better stop, study the craft, and write some practice books, because your first attempts are never the best and I wanted it to be the best it could be.
I wrote a Middle Grade book featuring all the cousins and neighborhood kids as characters featuring Quinn as the main character. It is called Dear Sydney, and they seemed to love it. One girl even had her 4th grade teacher read it to the class! Ha! Next, I went on to flesh out my story from the Summer of 1992 between high school and college. I had it all written down in a little green notebook for years. I always thought I'd turn it into a book, and so I did for practice.
When I was almost done, my dad called to ask me if I'd "help" him write a book with all his stories about the Amish he works with in Lancaster County, PA on a daily basis. I told him I would and figured it would make a good Christmas present again. That was February. In April, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Prostate cancer, and it was worse than the doc's had ever seen.
I put the summer book on the back burner and began working on dad's book. What was originally going to be a quick and easy collection of his Amish anecdotes, turned into his miraculous story of hope and faith against the odds. (It's been a year now, and the latest bone scan has shown no sign of cancer.) Meanwhile I sent the Summer 1992 story manuscript to a writing professor who was looking for unpublished manuscripts to use in his developmental editor's class. I sent mine, and he loved it, giving me more confidence in it than I'd had before.
After Christmas and finishing my Dad's book and trying to get it ready for publication, something unexpected happened. Well, sort of unexpected. I mean, it had been in the back of my mind for a while, ever since the oncologist told me my prognosis. "If it doesn't come back within ten years, it probably won't come back." At that point it was 10 months before the ten year mark, and 18 days before my next scheduled MRI. I had a seizure.
I was convinced I was going to die, like, right then and there. So was my husband. So were my kids who saw most of it. It only lasted a minute or so but it was enough to shake anyone. I called the doctor, and an MRI was scheduled for that day. I called my parents who came to the follow-up reading 3 days away.
It was negative. Dr. Pierre thought that perhaps he saw something different from 18 months before, but wanted to be sure. I put the writing away, stopped drinking my morning coffee, and did yoga for hours on end, while no longer waking up to an alarm. All at once the "crazy thoughts" I was having that were like circular reasoning and I can never really remember enough to describe just like you can't remember your dreams, ceased. Then less than two years later it happened again. Still nothing. Could it be due to extreme stress? I took a part-time job at an upholstery shop for fun and to get out of the house.
Sadly, nothing lasts forever. Karma Tech is no more and Mike and I have split. The fourth act of my life is just beginning and I am hopeful that good things are in store for me yet.