Sunday, June 29, 2014

Bonnie Greer: Her memoir A Parallel Life gives good creak

I do love a book that gives good creak. You open it up, and that asthmatic scraping protest - a sure sign of sound binding - marks one's ingress into a new environment; someone else's world. Bonnie Greer's hefty autobiographical tome, A Parallel Life, creaks like all the un-oiled doors in Hammer Horror's hammy oeuvre. Physically, it's a solidly produced hardback with paper not likely to yellow fast. The cover is a refraction of beautiful Greer faces in different life phases suggesting a chronology within (unlike, say, Gore Vidal's memoir Palimpsest, a lyrical cobweb of memory and anecdote, starting and ending nowhere in particular; but a whirligig of gorgeousness) - and one that does not bring us up to the present. A further volume is likely to follow. I shall expect gossip.

Fans of political chat shows will know Bonnie Greer. She's the one with the lilting, Borg-queen-smooth American voice who always speaks extraordinary good sense. Do certain names have a heritage of virtue, or lack of? Bonnie's near-name-sake Dr Germaine is also a superb clear-head liberal with an uncanny ability to dispel fear-driven nonsense in a few words. The fact that I agree with everything (more or less) that the Greers have to say is of course pertinent. All I can say is that when the Greers speak, I feel reassured that the public world is not entirely crazed, prejudiced, privileged or compromised by money, special pleading or pig ignorance (or cravenness to a newspaper).

Bonnie reveals herself to be a synesthete - she involuntarily perceives things in a multi-sensory way; for instance she sees the word 'Negro' as the colour grey. She'd be welcome in a Will Self novel. Likewise, to moi, 'Greer' triggers a gold, sharp sword in my mind. One would feel honoured to be decapitated by such a thing. The Greers are crusaders of a sort.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1948, Bonnie tells her early life story lucidly and with little sap. Her sense of engagement with the wider world is built from many influences: Shirley Temple, her autodidactic father's Reader's Digests; Baldwin; much more. Personally, I rarely read a non-fiction book from start to finish. I dip about. So when I first opened A Parallel Life (creak) I learnt that she started menstruating between the ages of eight and nine. In another dip I lived her Catholic upbringing and coming apostasy - yet she doesn't give us the standard Dawkinsist line about people of faith, as if the Enlightenment were the birth moment of a better humanity. 'I'm not someone who thinks atheists are grown-ups and deists are children...,' she writes. 'Atheists who...promulgate that forget a very important thing about human nature: we are transcendent creatures. We look UP. We believe. It is crucial for us, and is one of the definers of our humanity.'

Dip Three and it's bathos time: in Amsterdam she notes the many dog turds. Sooo true. My random reading is a fateful way of discovering quickly the most fascinating attributes of one's subject. A type of bibliomancy; a view into another reality, I find.

Beyond Greer's countless appearances as a TV talking-head, I knew nothing of her until I read (or dipped into) A Parallel Life. She is a playwright and has an OBE for services to literature. The Observer lists her as one of the UK's 300 Public Intellectuals. She's not just some measly, atheistic geek, however. The memoir reveals her to be in essence an artist with a stark gift for stripping away the crap of prejudice and delusion. Her soulful insights are keener than mere systemic hand-me-down ideas. The latter perhaps have uses in CVs and other variants of PR.

Do read this book and allow its rich honey to drench your senses. That's me being a synesthete.


I did look at Baby Boomer Bonnie's horoscope for in her memoir she gives us her precise date of birth with time - November 16, 1948; Chicago, GMT 12:16 pm. I'll keep this brief and to the point.

Bonnie is a double Scorpio with Scorpio co-ruler Pluto at the top of her chart. It's interesting that Bonnie titles her book A Parallel Life for the Scorpio myth is that of the double life: one lived, one secret, to a highly pronounced extent. Life is lived with a sense of concealment, even if not much is actually concealed; or with hyper-awareness of an alternative veiled self. We all reconstruct ourselves to some extent for public consumption. Double Scorpio accentuates the need for such re-ordering, and for secrecy, the hidden; for private places. Even her loved ones may say of her at times: 'Do we really know Bonnie? What's she on?'

The location of her co-ruler Pluto in the most public chart place - that of career - bestows much power and influence; but also a mystique; even a magic. Where did she really come from? What has she done? These can be some of the questions asked of her. She will be loved or loathed - she provokes. Even if I did not know Bonnie's identity I would say this is the horoscope of someone who wishes to reshape perspectives and/or acquire power.  This person does not like to be led, certainly not professionally. Pluto is one of the mythic celestials of power itself.

Scorpio is also ruled by Mars; and Bonnie's is in Sagittarius. This identifies her as a pioneer of conviction. In its worst manifestation it can bestow a holier-than-thou mindset. In its best, an example of breaking out of bounds and conventions. Mars here pursues new ideas of liberation or enlightenment. She would have made a fine lawyer.

Her Moon in Taurus opposite rising point draws her to practical, down-to-earth types who nurture her or whom she nurtures. Many of her key bonds (personal or professional) will have a parent/child quality. She may find that in certain relationships after a while, she is involved with someone who reminds her of a parent; the mother especially. She will be most influenced by women and feel more at one with them, especially if seeking advice or therapy. Bonnie's key role is that of nurturer. Her Moon is quite challenged in the horoscope - since I know nothing of her relationships I cannot comment. But certainly she will have had to face many challenges in key bonds with a need to make marked compromises. Her public roles and 'career' will have played an important part in synthesising complex problems in reaching accord with certain other people.

Mercury (planet of words and thought) rising describes her literary career. Gemini Uranus in Scorpio's traditional house of the 8th suggests a highly individual approach to sexuality, philosophy and other energies which delve beneath the skin of things. Gemini (one of Mercury's signs) compels her to articulate what she discovers in her subterranean journeys.

A Parallel Life, click here to sample or buy

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