Sarah Hepola

A hideaway in
the mists of cyberspace

Introducing the new and improved sarahhepola.com

In the spring of 2001, I decided to start my own website. Actually, I decided to quit my job at the Austin paper, travel to Ecuador to learn Spanish, and also start my own website, where I planned to share stories of my adventures. I didn’t like the idea of spamming my friend circle with long email rambles. I preferred building a hideaway out in the mists of a still developing cyberspace for anyone who cared to visit. 

I had a name for the site. Sounds Like Heffalump. Blogs were so new that the word blog had just been coined, and many of the ones I followed had wink-wink titles like this.

“Hmmm,” my friend said. 

“It’s a Winnie-the-Pooh reference,” I explained. “My last name, you know — sounds like Heffalump.”

“I get it,” he said, drawing out the words in a way that suggested perhaps it should not be gotten. He had another idea. “What about Sarahhepola.com?”

Just my name? But that was so boring. So unprotected by the modesty curtains of irony and cleverness. 

“That’s why I like it,” he said, and eventually, he persuaded me to this simpler tack. OK, fine: I’ll just be me.  

I bought sarahhepola.com, which, in a stroke of luck, had not been purchased by the two elderly women in Minnesota who share that name. I began scribbling stories, and posting them to the blog, and though there is nothing particularly special about writing online, seeing as how it employs the same 26-letter alphabet as writing for print, there was something very special about writing in that far-flung hideaway out in the mists of cyberspace. See, now we understand that when you write on the Internet, EVERYONE can see it. But back then, the opposite logic applied. Back then, if you wrote on the internet, it was like maybe it didn’t happen. Maybe nobody could see it. Or what about this: Maybe the only people who could see it were the people you WANTED to see it.

I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed writing as much as I enjoyed writing for that early blog, and I don’t think I’ve ever been less aware of who might or might not have been paying attention, and I am convinced those two things are related. I needed both audience and deniability: To believe everyone was reading, and nobody was.

Seventeen years have passed since then. Seventeen years. If this blog were a human, it would be preparing to go to college, listening to Ariana Grande, and lightly sneering at my ignorance of YouTube personalities. (I have no idea what seventeen year olds do. Is this right?) In that swath of time, I watched blogs rise and fall, replaced by a social media landscape where everyone gets their own reality show. I watched the advent of anonymous comments, which rolled like Panzer tanks over the intimacy and goodwill that arose on the early first-person web. I watched the economic floor drop out of my profession. I will leave it to the historians, and the hot shots over at the Atlantic, to determine whether the Internet is good for us, or bad for us. (OK, but: It is clearly both.) Let me just say it gives me no small pleasure to still be around, and I am deeply relieved not to be saddled with some twee Nineties bullshit like SoundsLikeHeffalump.com. 

Today I launch the new design of SarahHepola.com. The site was designed by the amazing and indefatigable Bill Webb, and it has new features — including a deep archive of published stories, a FAQ, information on Blackout translations, and a blog that I have been quietly adding to for several months. (I also plan to resurface old stories from that early blog that I took off-line years ago, although for now, the blog only dates back about a year.) Blogs are so out of date now that writing on this site has felt new. Post a picture on Instagram and your phone starts strobing with instantaneous feedback, but writing on a blog is quiet and lovely, a bit like climbing into a far-flung hideaway out in the mists of cyberspace, and happily typing away for a while. 

Thanks to the photographers Allison V. Smith, Elizabeth Lavin, and Brandon Thibodeaux for allowing me to use their photos. And thanks to anyone who bothers to read these things. I write them for you.