Yuenning Chang, Contributing Illustrator
Over the summer, it seemed that every person on my Instagram feed was off on a glamorous study-abroad trip to Europe or doing research at a world-class university. Meanwhile, my summer activities included watching TikTok in my childhood bedroom and working a job where I came in contact with an ungodly volume of urine specimens. It promised to be a long, lonely and contemplative three months.
To combat the isolation, I started watching “Inventing Anna.” The show follows the true story of a plucky journalist named Vivian Kent as she investigates a fake German Heiress named Anna Delvey who hoodwinked the New York elite. Anna — or rather, “Inventing Anna” — changed my life.
Anna’s character spoke to my soul. She had impeccable fashion sense, goddess-like networking capabilities, a deliciously dramatic circle of friends, a really weird accent and a propensity for engaging in semi-illegal activities. She was who I dreamed of becoming. The only downside to my fascination with Anna was that I developed a deeply unfeminist urge to marry rich and spend my days being disgustingly wealthy.
With this in mind, I shifted my adoration to a more ethical character: Vivian Kent, the reporter who investigates Anna. With her razor sharp wit and intense stare, Vivian Kent secured forbidden interviews, delved into intrigues and asked tough questions, scribbling everything into her super chic notebook.
Soon, I was lost in visions of a dazzling journalistic career. Instead of thinking about the bedpans I was scrubbing, I imagined the steamy, fantastical realm of a newsroom, the thrill of rubbing shoulders with celebrities, the jolt of adrenaline incurred by a rapidly approaching deadline. I dreamed of living on sporadic paychecks while searching frantically for the next big story. True, the desire to be a starving reporter is probably just as troublesome as the desire to be really rich, but at least it’s not unfeminist.
As I watched episode after episode of “Inventing Anna,” I saw both Vivian and Anna taking risks. They made moves. They knew what they wanted. They weren’t content to let things stay the way they were; they wanted big changes. They got what they wanted.
I began to reevaluate my own position, my own boring summer: What did I want?
Then it came to me. I wanted my life to be like Anna and Vivian.
In order to do this, I had to take a few steps.
Step 1: Find the Next Big Story
For Vivian Kent, living in a busy city, the Next Big Story could be around practically any corner. Finding a story in my small town was a bit more challenging.
But then the only nursing home in my small town decided to close its doors, outraging residents and community members. Here it was, dropped into my lap, the Next Big Story. Now, I just had to figure out how to report it.
The slight issue with that plan: my journalism experience is limited to being a lifelong NPR nerd and taking approximately six reporter training sessions at the YDN building. Fortunately, Vivian Kent showed me the real key to being a successful journalist …
Step 2: Get a Cool Notebook
I went to the dollar store and bought a spiral-bound red notebook. Fueled by dollar store chips — which, by the way, are now $1.25, thanks, inflation — and confident that my path to journalistic excellence was basically guaranteed by my new red notebook, I decided to …
Step 3: Leverage All Connections
I cold-emailed the editor of a local newspaper with my story pitch. I mentioned Yale immediately and said I was basically a pro because of all those YDN reporter trainings. I even sent a writing sample — and prayed he wouldn’t realize it was a human interest piece and not real, hard-hitting journalism.
It sounds bold but hear me out. Along with some other maxims learned in my first year, including “milk the hell out of the alumni network” and “a buttery buck saved is a buttery buck that can be exploited for lots of free grilled cheese,” I discovered that name-dropping Yale often grants me access to things I am completely unqualified for, like writing a breaking news story about a nursing home closure.
And sure enough, the editor said he was delighted to work with me on the story. He even offered in advance to pay me for my article.
That’s when I realized I was in over my head. Pay me? What if it turned out the article I was theoretically going to write was complete garbage? I felt like Anna Delvey, sweet-talking her way onto a private jet without paying for it. The world was at my fingertips, but one false move, and I would be outed as an imposter.
Then I remembered something Anna used to say: “You look poor.” Anna was right. If I wanted to be successful, if I wanted to be a real journalist, I needed to …
Step 4: Dress for the Part
Thankfully, in small-town Montana, the pace of fashion trends is always a few years behind, so an anti-wrinkle blouse from the clearance rack at TJ Maxx basically counts as designer. Wrinkle free and ready to write, I proceeded to knock on doors and visit facilities and call old ladies who went to my church.
After gathering all the information I needed, via lots of Google searches and Facebook stalking, it was the moment of truth. Was my journalist act enough to actually write the Next Big Story?
Anna Delvey faced a moment of truth too. The huge bank loan she was trying to secure — so that her fake socialite life could be real — fell through. Then, stranded in Morocco without a functioning credit card, she was nearly jailed for not paying her astronomical bills. Just like Anna in Morocco, my next task was to …
Step 5: Panic
I panicked about interviewing techniques. Who was I, thinking that binge watching nine episodes of a random Netflix show could teach me how to secure an exclusive interview, crack people open and capitalize on their secrets?!
I panicked about the fact that 50 percent of my sources knew me, my parents and my grandparents on a first name basis, probably held me when I was still in diapers and if I said anything that made the sources look bad, my life would be miserable forever.
I panicked about impending deadlines. In the show, Vivian Kent is motivated to write her story by the imminent birth of her child. I briefly considered this form of motivation, but decided it wasn’t feasible for me.
Eventually, though, it was time to …
Step 6: Do it.
I relistened to my interview tapes, I reviewed notes, I fact-checked names and quotes. I filled a Mason jar with minty water — very VIP — and forced myself to sit at the desk until I had a passable draft. Then I wrote the article.
And lo, it was published! On the front page! And there was my name in print underneath it, just like a real journalist! Vivian Kent would be proud of my article, and Anna Delvey would be proud that I absolutely and completely improvised my way through it.
After I wrote the article, I went to visit the newspaper office. It wasn’t the mystical newsroom I thought it would be. It was a 100-year old shag-carpeted building with a staff of exactly three people. I read some previous editions of the paper and realized the editor I “hoodwinked” was actually writing 90 percent of the articles himself. Maybe he just let me write the article because he was tired of doing all the reporting alone.
In any case, Anna Delvey and Vivan Kent taught me that you can get a lot of things just by asking for them. Take a page out of Anna’s book and steal a jet. Or buy a cool red notebook. Or something like that. With a little imagination, you too can reinvent yourself.