Describing anyone is usually a complex undertaking. It can be difficult to do justice to the full span of a person’s distinctive imprint in a full paragraph, let alone a solitary word. Nonetheless, one adjective springs readily to the forefront when I think of Sarah Desprat: sweet.
When I employ that term (“sweet”), I picture someone who is guilelessly gentle and winsomely attractive. I also envision someone who is adored by everyone who knows her while simultaneously remaining endearingly mystified by this fact. I have had the privilege of meeting Sarah a few times and getting to know her a little. She exemplifies all of the above and more, complete with a slightly shy, but ever ready smile.
I started doing this series on “Twitter Personalities” several months ago and I knew immediately that if the series lasted beyond the first couple of weeks, I would eventually compile a feature on Sarah. With her quirky spellings, zany phrasings and all-around loveable goodwill, Sarah is an inimitable Twitter original. Really, doesn’t anyone merit a follow who aspires to disclose to Neil Cavuto just how #HUGGABLE he is?!?!
I was delighted when Sarah attended my DC Tweetup on 8/28; I was, after all, eager to express my gratitude because the credit for my newly discovered zeal for Fox News Channel’s “Red Eye” can be placed squarely at her feet. I enjoyed conveying my thanks to Sarah for introducing me to Greg Gutfeld’s and Bill Schulz’s respective brands of wee-night-hour comedic madness. (Not to mention Andy Levy, who dedicated his 10,000th tweet to Sarah.) I did not appreciate, nor do I fondly recall today, the fact that I managed to severely mangle Sarah’s last name, not only the first time I met her, but also at BlogCon a couple of weeks later. But she was sweet about it, of course…
You can ask Sarah how to pronounce Desprat, muse over the latest “Greg-a-logue” tidbit or simply enjoy the daily witticisms she doses out by following her at @sarahbellumd and falling in love with the Sweetheart of the Conservative Twitterverse. Oh and…you should know that Sarah self-captioned all the photos except the first one.
10 Questions for Sarah Desprat
1. Chicago is the city you call home and you know it well. But did you grow up there? What was it like and what were the influences that made you the person you are today?
I guess it would be more accurate to say I started growing up there. My family lived in an apartment in the Rogers Park neighborhood till I was four. My best friend was Laura Lopez. Her mom worked with mine at the time. My sister Emmy was born when I was 2 ½, much to my dismay. She went on to break a lot of my stuff, including my Teddy Ruxpin. But we get along OK these days. We moved to the northwest suburbs of Chicago when I was four, and when I was in first grade, we got our first dog. It was my idea (she was a birthday present for my dad, and I can’t believe my mom agreed to it!), and she was awesome. We had three goldfish. They all died. Within a week. Apparently, filters are important.
In May of 1991, my family moved to another house in the same town, the one they’re currently living in. My brother Ben was born when I was 9 ½. Having a brother was a nice change of pace. My sister and I both got along better with him than we did with each other. Oh well. Like I said, we all get along pretty well, now. Ben’s were the first diapers I’d ever changed in my life. That definitely had a role in shaping the person I’ve become.
I feel really fortunate that I grew up in the family I grew up in. My parents were always around and took an interest in our lives. We always ate dinner together and when I dropped one of my teeth down the drain while I was washing it off, my mom hugged me while I cried. There were trips to France to visit my dad’s family and fires in the fireplace. I liked that.
Should probably be wrapping this up…let’s see. I was always very hard on myself, even when I was little. Always a perfectionist. Not sure where that came from, and I’ve learned to relax a little bit, but those tendencies still come out, and they’re definitely a part of me. I didn’t have much of a life while I was in school. I did homework. A lot. I always managed to find a way to make more for myself. I was a bookworm and a dork, and I was friends with other bookworms and dorks. Most of them were just more outgoing than me. But having friends like that was really good for me, I think, because it made it OK for me to be a total square. I never cared about being popular, but having good friends mattered to me a lot. And while it took me some time because I was shy and self-conscious, in college, I made friends with some of the dorkiest, nerdiest, and most awesome people I’ve ever met. And they, too, have helped to make me the me that I be.
2. What does being a conservative mean to you and when did you realize you were?
Well, to me, one of the most important tenets of conservatism is the idea of personal responsibility. I can’t stand when people do something and refuse to own up to it. Kids do that. They can be excused. Grownups, though, not so much. Just admit when you’ve made a mistake and try to fix it. That’s one of the things that really irks me about the current president. You can just tell that his head would explode if he were forced to take responsibility for his decisions. Ugh. You don’t run for POTUS if you’re only going to blame everyone else for your problems. You just don’t. True conservatism is about trying to do the right thing and having the guts to admit when you’ve messed up. It’s about learning from the past.
Sorry; that was a little vent-y. What else do I think of when I think of conservatism? The basic stuff, I guess. The principles of liberty and fiscal responsibility. The idea that you should be judged on your own merits. And not constantly playing “cards.” None of this race card or gender card or any card business. It’s annoying, and it’s just another means of shirking responsibility.
To me, conservatism makes more sense. I mean, I diverge somewhat from conservatism when it comes to certain social issues, and then I lean more libertarian. But I believe in what I think conservatism should be about. And I base that for the most part on what my parents taught me, both by their words and by example.
3. What animates your desire to be involved in the political scene?
Well, I came into it biased, I suppose, because I grew up with conservative parents. My parents were quite adept at calling out my more liberal extended family members when it came to politics, so I became accustomed to the conservative perspective being the right perspective. But thinking about it, the conservative perspective just makes more sense to me. A lot of the values I have fit in much better with conservatism than liberalism. So there you go.
I’d never really been politically involved. And to be honest, when I was in school, I was all about academics. I didn’t really put aside any time to become more politically aware. I had a pretty good idea about what I believed, but I was too busy worrying about other stuff. Once I got to college, I went out of my way to suppress my political concerns. College is not the most welcoming environment for opposing viewpoints, which is pretty stupid, in my opinion. I wasn’t bold enough to start fights and I’m generally a non-confrontational person, so the idea of engaging in debate with other students just didn’t appeal to me at all. My friends were almost exclusively liberal, and they knew my leanings, and that was fine. We didn’t really talk about politics, and we were able to appreciate a lot of other awesome qualities we saw in each other.
It was really after I graduated that I began to realize that I couldn’t feign apathy or go on remaining willfully ignorant, even though both of those things were easier than paying attention. When I left the college bubble and had to work on making my way in the grownup world, the ramifications of what was going on in the political sphere became much more apparent to me. I was pretty disgusted with the way the country was shifting politically, but I wanted to be able to articulate my disgust better, to get a firmer grasp on what it was that bothered me. I went to the Chicago Tax Day Tea Party in 2009 because, well, I’d already been unemployed for a while, and I was looking for something to do. I was curious. What I found was a lot of people who felt the way I did, and in Chicago, that’s really saying something. I decided then that I wanted to find a job that would let me contribute to the limited-government movement and would help me keep up with politics to the best of my abilities.
I eventually found a job with a startup tea-party-type organization in Chicago, but, well, the whole operation turned out to be a sham. I learned a lot of lessons from that experience. One of the positive things that came out of it was that I made contact with and met some really great conservatives, many of them bloggers, and I felt like I had a whole new group of friends. This year, at the beginning of May, I got a temporary job at National Review Institute in DC, which was just the sort of opportunity I needed to get me out here. It was just an admin job, nothing glamorous, but during those three months, I continued to meet more people here, people I liked. After I left NRI, I got a nice gig as an intern at FreedomWorks thanks to the generosity of Tabitha Hale, another one of the friends I made through my involvement (or attempted involvement) in the limited-government movement. I’ve been there since August, helping out in the new media department and learning more about the blogger universe. Not exactly sure where I’ll be going from here, but I’m hoping it’s somewhere I can continue to make a difference, cheesy as that may sound. So if anyone has any ideas, I’m open to suggestions!
4. We have discussed Chicago restaurants a number of times. Tell us about being a dining department intern…and any other food-related experiences on which you care to elaborate!
Dude. If you get me started talking about food and restaurants, I hope you’re ready to have your ear talked off. I could seriously talk about that stuff all day. I consider myself really lucky that I was raised by two people who love food and encouraged me to do the same. Most of their good friends are foodies, too, so I grew up around some pretty awesome dinners and got to try all sorts of things that my friends wouldn’t even touch. By the time I was in kindergarten, I already loved sushi and Roquefort and leeks and pigeon and tons of garlic. I watched Justin Wilson and “The Frugal Gourmet” and Julia Child, and the first (and only) book of poetry I was ever given was a collection of poems about food. So I like that stuff.
But as far as food experience goes, it’s pretty much all personal and informal. I was a biology major in college. I’d had an amazing AP Biology teacher my senior year of high school, and I was convinced that I was going to become a research biologist. I was going to study cancer and genetics for the rest of my life. I was fortunate to have had plenty of opportunities in school to spend time in the lab, and I spent a summer as a research assistant in a molecular biology lab at the University of Iowa. And then…I had a combination epiphany/mini nervous breakdown about halfway through my junior year of college. I realized that I was in love with the idea of research, but the process just didn’t mesh well with my results-oriented personality. The most fun I had in lab my senior year, actually, was the time I got to spend talking about food with my professor.
I had no desire to be a professional chef, but I still liked the idea of having a career that revolved around food, maybe as a writer. So I quit my first job after college when I was chosen for an editorial internship in the dining department at Chicago magazine. It was during my time there that I really became obsessed with the Chicago restaurant scene. I wound up sticking around for nine months, and during that time, I had the opportunity to speak with some prettay snazzay food personalities, local and beyond, and I got to eat at some really nice restaurants on opening night. I also successfully convinced my boss that Gordon Ramsay is, in fact, quite awesome, and totally charming and nice. I’ve never actually met him, but I just knew. And after she interviewed him, she was forced to admit that he’s lovable. That was maybe my biggest accomplishment during my tenure at the magazine. Well, not really. But it was pretty sweet.
5. Who are 3 people, whether low-profile or celebrities, who have positively influenced you in a lasting way and how did they do it? Conversely, who are 3 others whom you despise…and why?
This’ll sound clichéd, but I’ve gotta say it: my parents. They’re two people who have influenced me in a positive way. Since I was born! But I’m not even going to attempt to explain how they’ve done it. What’s important is that they have. I think I’m a pretty good person when push comes to shove, and I owe a lot of who I am to them. I’ve got their DNA floating around in my cells and they’ve given me a lotta love, most of it unconditional. (I keed!) As for a third person who’s had a positive influence on me…that’s really tricky. I’ve known a lot more than three people in my life who’ve made me a better person. Can I just leave it at two? I don’t wanna leave anyone out, you know what I mean?
And now for three people I despise…you know, I could have a lotta fun with that. Once I get going, it’s hard to stop. But it’s actually pretty hard to think of someone I genuinely despise, at least someone I’ve known personally. I’ve run across plenty of people who suck, in my opinion. But I’m not sure I’ve truly despised any of them. So instead of picking out three specific people, I’ll just make three generic schmucks: people who abuse kids, people who abuse animals, and all those dictator types in the world who delight in the misery and murder of their countries’ citizens. That should pretty much cover everything.
6. What are some of your favorites in life: books, movies, musical artists, TV shows, vacation spots, hobbies, foods…and other miscellaneous items from which you derive happiness?
Books: Anything by Roald Dahl (except for Fantastic Mr. Fox), Animal Farm, Kitchen Confidential, We the Living, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Movies: A Hard Day’s Night (that is NOT a musical. I hate musicals.), Le Dîner de Cons, Les Aventures de Rabbi Jacob, Young Frankenstein, Airplane!, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Waiting for Guffman
TV: Red Eye (of COURSE), Arrested Development, Golden Girls, Seinfeld, South Park, Frasier, Friday Night Lights, Top Chef (except for the most recent season. Just awful), assorted Britcoms
Vacation spots: France, North Carolina, and hopefully lots more to follow once I get some money
Hobbies: Cooking, eating, watching TV, knitting (I can only do scarves, though, and it’s been a while), tweeting, reading (when I’m not doing the other stuff)
Foods: Sushi, Granny Smith apples, dark chocolate, ratatouille, red sauce, fruit in general, fish in general, salad, veggies, coffee ice cream, sourdough pretzels, real French bread, rillettes, cereal
Music: The Beatles, T. Rex, Nick Drake, Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, The Police, Talking Heads, other stuff, classical
7. I’ll confess I had to put considerable forethought into crafting this question. But tell us about how you discovered Twitter…and how did you forge your distinctive niche? You are one of the most intuitive tweeters I follow; you seem to instinctively grasp the medium and play it up for all its worth, with goofy spelling, onomatopoeia and clever banter. From what fertile mental soil does this spring??!!
Psh. Most of the time, my mental soil needs watering. But thank you.
For a while, I’d been reading about Twitter, but I honestly didn’t get the point. Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me. I blame the guys from “Red Eye” and @soopertrev. I started poking around early last year. Not every day, but just occasionally. Then I finally decided it would be less work for me to just sign up and follow those guys, so last July, I did. I didn’t really know what the hell I was doing, and my first tweets were pretty awkward, but I figured it didn’t matter too much, since no one was reading them. I started following people Andy Levy followed (because I trust Andy’s judgment) and things just kind of blew up from there. I found the #redeye crowd, which consists of pretty much the most awesome people ever, and one thing led to another…after a while, I just kind of slid into my little niche. I spent about six months out of work, which sucked, but something positive that came out of that is that I had a lot of time to work on expanding my Twitter presence. I was spending most of my time by myself, so as dorky as it sounds, it was nice to have my network of Twitter buddies. I always had someone to talk with, and there was always something interesting going on. By the time I found a job in DC and moved out east, I felt like I already had friends here. That’s pretty cool.
As far as just my tweeting style goes, well, I’m pretty much just myself. I’m a big dork, and for whatever reason, it seems to work on Twitter. I write like I talk. That includes weird pronunciations and stuff like that. I’ve also found that I’m much bolder on Twitter than in my everyday life. I guess that makes sense, and it’s probably fairly common among other people online, since the internets act as a sort of barrier guarding real life. But I do think my Twitter persona has been bleeding into my real life, and sometimes I’m surprised by what I’ve got lying there in the dark recesses of my brain. But hey. Depravity’s helped me to gain followers, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
8. We’ve talked a little about the issue of attempting to begin a career in the times in which we’re living. What dreams would you pursue if you could and what are the unique challenges of our time that lie in the path of this generation?
This is actually a really difficult question for me. Whenever I’m put on the spot about what it is I want to do, I kind of freeze up. I’m the type of person who always needs to know what’s going on. I’m thinking about what happens ten years from now just as much as I’m thinking about what happens ten minutes from now. So when it comes to what I want to do with my life, it feels like I can’t give an answer unless I’m absolutely certain of it. Of course, in life, that doesn’t happen most of the time, so coming to terms with that is an ongoing process.
Outside of career-oriented stuff, though, there are a lot of things I want to do. I want to travel. I’ve got a pretty sweet list of places I’d like to go, but it’s a long one, so I won’t go into detail here. I’d also love to be able to eat at the world’s best restaurants, even just once. I want to go to Alinea and the French Laundry and elBulli and a bunch of other ones. I think it would be amazing. I’d like to have enough money to be able to buy my parents a house in France, because I know how much they’d love that, and to be able to take care of my family. Yet another dream of mine would be to learn how to worry less and to make that lesson stick. That’s been tricky so far. And I dream of finding a path in life that makes me feel happy and fulfilled and comfortable with who I am. I think it’d be pretty cool to learn to play the banjo and to take fancy-pants cooking classes. Oh – and I totally wanna meet the guys from “Red Eye.” Sorry, but I’d be lying to myself and to all of you if I left that one out.
With regard to your second question, I’m not sure I can speak for anyone other than myself, but I’ll try to answer. I don’t think you can discount the crappy economy. It’s difficult not only to find work, but to stay motivated to find work. I think it’s natural to want to give up after a while. I’ve certainly felt that way, and I know I’m not the only one. Also, something that’s stood in my way to a certain extent is my tendency to compare myself to others. I look around and see people who know what they want to do with their lives and who have become successful, and then I look at myself and don’t see that. It’s discouraging, and it’s a bad habit, but every so often, I find myself getting hung up on those things. I also look at my parents and the things they’ve been able to achieve in their lives, professionally and personally, and I want to live up to that. I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself, and while that can be a great motivational tool, it can also be a hindrance. So yeah, these are the things that I find challenging when I look at where my life is going. I’d wager others can relate.
9. What are the values and from whence is the moral compass derived that leads you to make the decisions that you do as you face life’s choices?
This is a pretty intense question, but my answer to it is quite simple. It was my parents who laid my moral foundation. They’ve been teaching me about life since always. I may not agree with them about everything, but I think that’s part of growing and finding my own way. For the most part, and when it comes to what really matters, I think I stand where they do.
My moral compass has also been shaped by the people I’ve encountered during the course of my life. Whether my interactions with them are positive or negative, they still impact me in some way. Sometimes, they cause me to think about things differently. Sometimes, they just convince me that I should stick to my guns because I’m right. Either way, it’s meaningful. I learn things as a spectator, too. I watch how other people’s experiences and choices affect them, and I try to take lessons away from that.
10. What are three accomplishments that you would like to be able to achieve in life?
I’m not even going to try to be profound here. What I want is pretty basic, I think. I want to get married/have a family (forget that fish-without-a-bicycle crap), find a career or something to do with my life that makes me happy, and I want to get to a point where I don’t feel like I need to depend on other people. There’s nothing wrong with relying on others sometimes, but I think it’d feel really good to know that when push comes to shove, I can look out for myself.