Not All That Glitters is Gold

At the start of the new year there is an expectation to set about bettering oneself, striving to make improvements upon our perceptions of the previous year’s failings and imperfections. There is a need to show we are willing to subscribe to this mentality, that this year will be the year that we chisel our bodies and our beings into an untarnished golden acceptability. However, gold is soft — it can be beaten thin enough to become near transparent. It can easily be stretched so thin as to be almost invisible. Bronze, on the other hand, is an alloy; it is born of multiple substances. It’s an incorporation of things greater than itself, making it a material with more strength overall. It is more versatile, a better conductor, and it is more receptive.

In ‘Cool Runnings’, the coach tells his team, “winning gold may be a wonderful thing, but if you’re not enough without a medal, you’ll never be enough with one”. When I was seventeen, I thought that without Oxford, I would be inadequate, unremarkable, and a failure. Now at twenty, without Oxford, and back living in the bedroom of my adolescence, I am beginning to believe the somewhat foreign feeling that I am enough, just in myself.

Getting into Oxford was the culmination of months of work and anxiety, a golden trophy into which I had poured all my effort, and precarious self worth. To my mind, that acceptance or rejection would define who I was and the quality of not just my work and intellect, but my self. This, of course, is misguided and foolish, especially as when plunged into an environment in which the norm is excellence, intelligence and slight eccentricity, the one factor which I had used to define me, that glittering glow, dissipated into irrelevance. Ice in itself is solid and entire; in a body of hot water, it dissolves into an unremarkable mass.

There’s a sculptural installation in a courtyard of the custard factory in Digbeth, of bronze figures, suspended in the air. Their fall is grotesque, the nakedness unapologetic and unpasteurised, yet their tarnished fleshliness is beautiful. They fall yet are maintained in a state of suspension, metal muscles puckering with the effort of avoiding collapse. Had the figures been golden, it would have denied the fall; one would subconsciously make the assumption that they were divine, in some way godlike and perhaps flying or floating, rather than falling. Their abstraction would be bright, but not brilliant.

‘All that is gold does not glitter’. Tolkien incorporated the proverb used by Aesop, Shakespeare and Chaucer into a poem within his fantasy series, yet it is not such a fantastical statement. Not everything that shines is golden. To be content with bronze is a rejection of the competitive climate which insists that the attainment of gold is to be entire, that satisfaction with bronze is in some way a false compensation, a fraudulent self-deception of achievement. Like bread crumbs leading children deep into the woods, the nuggets of achievement which are scattered before us throughout school often lead to a golden fantasy, which like Oz, is later revealed to be an elaborate fabrication. Sometimes when we aspire towards gold, the sunlight gleaming from its surface blinds our eyes to the truth of that which we are seeking, and we can no longer see the beauty of the substance beyond its celebrity. I’m coming to see the beauty in being slightly tarnished, and the strength of bronze: not all that glitters is gold.