At the start of any New Year there is an expectation to set about bettering oneself, to make improvements upon those things we perceive to have been the previous year’s failings and imperfections. There's a need to show that we are willing to subscribe to this mentality of curation, to believe that this will be the year that we will finally 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 is easily be stretched so thin as to be almost invisible. Bronze, on the other hand, is an alloy; born of multiple substances, it’s an incorporation of things greater than itself, making it a material with greater strength. It is more versatile, a better conductor, and differently yet equally attractive as gold.
In Cool Runnings, John Candy's character tells the bobsleigh 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: a failure. Now at twenty, without Oxford, and back living in the bedroom of my adolescence, I am beginning to believe this 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, acceptance or rejection would define who I was: not only the quality of 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 was excellence, intelligence (and slight eccentricity) that which I had used to define me - academia's 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, their 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 have subconsciously make the assumption that they were divine, 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, but 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, are 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 beginning to see the beauty in being slightly tarnished and the strength of bronze: not all that glitters is gold.