Fleabag, Taylor Swift and the Art of Listening
Updated: May 3, 2020
Imagine watching a TV show for a full season, only to discover at the end of it that you never knew the lead character's name. And, it didn’t matter.
You didn’t need to know her name. You never felt like it was missing or that she had any less of an identity because of it. She had no less value without her name because instead of knowing her name you learned who she was.
The name of the TV show is Fleabag and the writer purposefully left the lead characters name out of the script. That same writer created the show and starred in it. And, the depth of the writing and performance are something I have not seen in a long time. It takes place over the span of two seasons with six episodes each.
The creator, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, was able to capture comedy and drama in back to back moments that made you laugh and cry, but somehow also left you feeling more understood. More human.
Things don’t always work out well for her character – in fact, most of the time they don’t. She often messes things up out of her deep desire to make them better. The people she loves most are often those that she hurts and that hurt her the most.
But, as one of the characters in the show observes, we all make mistakes. That’s why we have erasers on the ends of our pencils.
I used to be a drama kid. I spent my nights and weekends for the better part of my teenage years diving into character backstories, learning choreography in rehearsals and grappling with the meaning of life through the eyes of the characters I played.
I loved the high of a great performance on the stage – when I felt like I was able to capture something that was true and real. Something that was uniquely the character and uniquely me at the exact same time. They say you need to be head over heels in love with acting to pursue it as a career, and I knew that I wasn’t.
I couldn’t stomach the butterflies that consumed me before every performance. Instead, I preferred to write and direct and be the one who pulled the strings offstage.
But, I’ve never forgotten that feeling of risking it all onstage and the high afterword. I still chase that feeling in my life today and challenge myself to take those kinds of risks in my relationships, in my career and in my writing.
So, when I saw Fleabag, I saw someone who soaked their storytelling in that kind of truth and risk.
And, it felt like home.
There’s another artist that reminds me of that feeling: Taylor Swift.
In case you’ve missed it, her new album is out. After community group the other night, some friends gathered in a huddle to chat through the hits and misses of her 18-song album. Both ladies and gentlemen were part of this heated debate – both took the time to listen.
When Taylor Swift releases an album, it’s a cultural event. She isn’t afraid to admit to being human and sharing her truth in her songs. And, because of that, we listen.
Some people like her, and some don’t. Some agree with her, and some don’t. But because she chooses to share her life so boldly, we listen.
Maybe that should be the goal. It feels like we are all on some sort of quest or crusade to get the world to agree with us. What if instead of approaching people with the goal of agreement, we approached others with the goal of listening and understanding?
What if instead of learning people’s names and the labels they identify with, we sought to know them in all the messy complexity of who they are? I am not always the best at this. Especially when I feel that I have a moral responsibility to speak up on behalf of those who can’t. And yet, I have so much room to grow in seeking to understand before I seek to be understood.
We are not perfect. That’s a reality. And yet, we go around using perfect like some sort of measuring stick for our lives and the lives of those around us.
I don’t necessarily agree with all the decisions of Phoebe Waller-Bridge's character in Fleabag or that Taylor Swift has made. Like all of us, they are not perfect. But, because they chose to share their lives so vulnerably, I understood them.
Instead of agreeing or disagreeing, I felt for them and with them.
And, because of that, I felt a little more human.