More Than the Tinkling of Crystal

Inventing Anna and the Price of Happiness

Ali Kjergaard / 6.20.22

I recently watched the show Inventing Anna, not my usual genre, but something drew me in. The show is a picture of a high roller lifestyle I can’t even fathom. The show did stress me out and made me scramble to check my own credit card bills, lest another Anna Delvey somehow charged $65,000 to my own credit card. But no worries, all good. The show is fun to watch — the stunning, foreign places she goes, her pretty clothes, the wining and dining — it was a glamorous train wreck that I wanted to keep watching. But it was undoubtedly lonely; no one in the show seems to have any real friends. That shouldn’t be terribly surprising, but a sad reality nonetheless. 

The other thing that caught my eye was this strange obsession with brands, everyone remembered who was wearing what. There was a subtle competition on who could spend the most. Good things were only good based on their price tag. Anna often talks about dining on lobster and caviar and champagne, but at one point in quiet desperation Anna finds a leftover Shake Shack burger on the subway and eats it. It’s a $7 burger, higher class than McDonald’s, but still a typical plebeian meal. I don’t pretend to know if she relished eating it or not; I suspect it was one of those truly humbling moments in which the champagne drinking socialite is now just like the rest of us. 

When I first moved to DC in 2017, I spent two hours on the metro every day, to and from work. I remember one day after work as a treat for myself I bought a burger and milkshake from Good Stuff. It was a Friday, it had been a long week, and I got onto the train with my Good Stuff, thrilled. I found a whole row to myself, awkwardly propped open my copy of Emma (there has got to be a better way of propping books open while we eat) and I savored every bite and every delicious word. Anna Delvey and I both didn’t have a ton money in our subway/metro moments, credit cards were catching up to her, and I was a recent college grad starting on Capitol Hill. The burger, which was her lowest point, had been what I had been especially looking forward to — we truly were the meme of the bus sitters, one depressed the other happy, both munching on the burger. This isn’t to say I’m always happy and chirpy, easily pleased by a burger. I’m disgruntled and discontented far more often than I should be, but watching that scene brought back a fondness for that little moment of unadulterated joy I had found in an unlikely place.

Anna isn’t the only one appraising everything and everyone on money; in the show everyone is chasing money and name recognition, and the hollowness of that pursuit was the resounding echo throughout the show. Anna never seems “happy”; in all of the selfies she takes in the most beautiful places, the most she can work up is an aloof smile, no crinkly eyes or scrunchy nosed smiles will do. Even at her highest points where she’s in the thick of the elite socialite club, it doesn’t even seem like she’s chasing happiness, just an exclusive, wealthy life with high-priced experiences. She’s obsessed with “making it”; happiness doesn’t seem to be her goal. 

Sitting in the park by my house in the sunshine, drinking iced tea and eating a snack from the coffee shop across the street, a pile of books on a grass stained quilt, I’m just so happy. If you offered me a chance to go to a Michelin star restaurant in that moment of sunshine and books, I’d turn it down. The park is illuminated by the best light I can ask for, the patrons of the park are families and friends, wagging dogs and staggering toddlers. Perhaps they actually are social elites and live a lifestyle I can’t afford, but at the park we’ve all opted for the same pleasure. Parks and the free museums of DC act as great equalizers. Anna Delvey dreams of building the most exclusive club for the richest, most elite of the world. It is to be in the fanciest building, with the finest artists and chefs decorating and catering it. Her world runs on being exclusive, and everyone around her builds themselves up to prove they deserve to fit this socialite world. The whole story is called Inventing Anna because she creates a caricature so that no one knows who she really is. But it is in grassy green parks and price-tag-less spaces that everyone is allowed to be who they’d like to be. Wandering around the National Gallery there’s no need to pretend to be an art expert; it’s enough to just enjoy the colors in the paintings. Parents stay at the park until their little ones dissolve into tears, dogs get off their leashes and sniff their noses into neighbor’s picnic baskets — the whole scene is less crisp and clean than Anna’s club, but it’s real life.

The greatest pleasures in the world are found in our own contentment, and that begins with kindness to ourselves.  

I can’t help but wish people like Anna knew that walking around the neighborhood in the sun is free, and that those little movements are going to bring such pleasure to life in their simplicity. My mom first introduced these little pleasantries into my daily routine. Being homeschooled we started every morning with a walk — in the fall, collecting a treasure trove of colored leaves, or in the Colorado winter, my mom allowing for frequent stops so I could crack the ice that built up in the sidewalk gutters. When doing math (my least favorite of subjects) my mom made me a little plate of sliced cheddar cheese and ritz crackers to munch on as I worked through my problems. It’s those little things that are going to make all the difference to the task at hand; walks are lovely, but you also have to take it in: collect the leaves, breathe in the damp smell of the fall.

If you want to read the perfect example of someone who embraces the little joys of life, revels in its beauty, and leans into its sorrows (perhaps too much), and never tries to be anything other than herself might I introduce you to my favorite red headed heroine, Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables

Anne is the headstrong, emotional, quick-tempered little orphan who arrives on Prince Edward Island to Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. I’ve often said that the Anne series is like getting a glass of cold pink lemonade handed to you on a warm day. It’s sheer delight. You can’t help but fall a bit more in love with your own world after hearing Anne talk about how dearly she loves hers. Anne doesn’t have the prettiest clothes (which she bemoans from time to time), she doesn’t live in a mansion (though she dreams of them), she likes the idea of fine dining (raspberry cordial) and she’s drawn to beautiful things (Marilla’s amethyst brooch). In fact, I’d say her and Anna have this in common, this desire for fancier things. But in between Anne imagining a dress covered in diamonds and the perfect puffed sleeves, she is making up beautiful names for common places and wandering the Island gathering armfuls of flowers, appreciating the beauty that is already there for the taking. 

Perhaps that’s what I love most about Anne — she’s not perfectly content with everything around her (her red hair is her lifelong sorrow after all), but she does accept the fullness of her current life with open arms. We could pretend that we’re never Anna Delvey, desiring wealth and exclusivity, but that just wouldn’t be true. Of course, I’m not scamming people, but I can admit I’ve found myself wishing I could just buy the exorbitantly overpriced dress sometimes. If Christ showed up on my doorstep and told me to go and sell all my possessions, I’d also probably drop my head in sadness. 

We find ourselves between Anne and Anna, but one of these girls has embraced her own self. In Anne’s first prayer she admits, “for the things I want, they’re so numerous that it would take a great deal of time to name them all so I will only mention the two most important. Please let me stay at Green Gables; and please let me be good-looking when I grow up.” By the end of the show Anna Delvey has dug in her heels; she will continue to act the part of the wealthy heiress, even if it’s not who she is. And as for Anne, she will give up trying to go by the name Cordelia but will still insist her name is spelled with an “E.” At one point when her friends are sighing over all the wealthy women they saw at the country club, Anne will jump in with this little wisdom: 

“Look at that sea, girls — all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn’t enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds.”

When Anna Delvey is on the yacht, sipping champagne, perhaps what she needed most was an Anne Shirley to grab her arm and point to the sea, and remind her that she need not be anything other than herself to enjoy the beauty around her, and that much of it never came with a price tag.

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