A friend often reminds me that what is done on one side of the body (a massage, a scratch, etc.) needs to be done on the other side as well for balance. So, in response to a much earlier post regarding “unfavorite” words, by that rule a post about a favorite word is required. And that word is progressive.
Noun or adjective, progressive has become a political lightning rod of late. It can mean to develop gradually but is now more often used to refer to the ideas and proponents of dramatic social reform. It’s actually one of my favorite words. That’s not because I support “socialist” ideas, although sometimes I do (I signed up to hand out socialist propaganda at college but then never followed up to do it). It’s because as a teenager, I would attend “progressive music night” for teens at a dance club.
On Thursday nights, I would pick out something to wear that expressed a self-perceived lack of conformity, probably just a Smiths tee, a checkered miniskirt, and a pair of worn-out black footless tights with a hole in one knee. I would drive twenty minutes to the club, meet my friends there, and dance for a few hours to New Order, the Cure, Depeche Mode, even Dead or Alive, and other artists that defined us as a disaffected, perhaps overly affected group. In the back of the club, we could buy watered-down soft drinks, but we rarely had money for that after paying the $5 entrance fee. On the sides of the club, we could sit at a table and smoke a cigarette or two, which I sometimes did but was never good at. For a brief time, we smoked delicious and extremely unhealthy Djarums. But that’s it — nothing that progressive about our actions or us or that time. It was just teenage freedom, a night out surrounded by music that had meaning to us, a night to see some friends, to be in a crowd, to dance, to live.
While bouncing around with my peers to “It’s the End of the World,” I didn’t know or think about what was ahead for any of us. I would not have predicted a global pandemic in 2020 that would devastate health care systems and take countless lives. I didn’t know that progressive would come to mean that social safety nets are good for society, that health care is a right, that the environment is worth saving. At the club, we were enjoying no longer dreading imminent nuclear annihilation, a very real threat to us in the eighties. We lived through the Reagan years, so we knew that mainstream society was corrupt, that art was good and money was bad (but we needed it to buy music, used clothes, and buckle shoes). We felt progressive, part of a community of sorts, of social or emotional misfits, sharing a common angst and joy. In that dance club, we felt fine.
We, along with the world, are now decades older. And like everyone, we now worry about our health and livelihoods and, especially, about our aging parents, the people we once couldn’t wait to get away from. We now have the same concerns that they probably did then, which we were oblivious to at the time. We might not feel fine about it, but the world as we knew it seems to have ended, as it always does — gradually, progressively. In this moment, we are trying to cope with an unknown that might remind us of the fears we had as children. As adolescents we eschewed those fears, and later we progressively overcame them.
I will continue to appreciate the word progressive for many reasons, but I’d like to regressively go back to that club for a night. “Forever Young” is playing, and maybe someone interesting will ask me to dance.