And the Oscar Goes To…

February 14, 2024
And the Oscar Goes To...

Red carpet, bright lights, killer dresses, glamour, and gossip. If this is in late February or early March, it is the Oscars – the event that pulls a crowd of almost 20 million viewers, the moments that shoots a few humans into stardom, forever. Let’s be honest, haven’t we all held a microphone-shaped object pretending we were that star?In the summer I turned eight (far and away from America) I put on a show (actually two) for my family and neighbors. Blurry on what had gotten into me, I created my version of a usual evening TV program – I opened with a song and a dance performance, then made up the news, presented the weather forecast, and finally, the main event – a puppet show behind two dining chairs held curtain, with the help of my sister’s hands working a couple of characters. My parents squashed my acting career for many reasons.  Charging the neighbors 5 cents a ticket was a no-no and  nothing beats books, obviously.  But I still remember the jubilation from what seemed genuine ovations.For a while, school graduation ceremonies were my next and only chance to be on stage, but top students were never popular, and I worked hard to get perfect grades. “You can’t be the child of a teacher and not be an ‘A+’ student.” – my parents would guilt trip me.

You can’t be the child of a teacher and not be an ‘A+’ student

Once I flew the coop, and markedly so after I moved abroad, I lived life on my terms, imperfect, rarely competitive, yet quite ambitious. A few times, I won prizes and awards, but never with the opportunity to be accepted publicly, on stage. My name is big only on my social media walls.In 2015 I re-moved to Chicago for good. Single and in my 40s, I plugged myself into any activity I could fit into – neighborhood committees, writing groups, meetups, all in the hope of finding a life mate. My love for cycling led me to start a neighbourhood cycling club with a few others. We soon formed the North Branch Trail Alliance, connecting North Branch trail users to cultural, shopping, and dining experiences. I became a grassroots community leader.

Two years later, at they annual event, the City of Chicago recognized us as the Active Transit Alliance’s Advocate of the Year. As surprising as sweet sentiment! We were invited to the stage, presented an engraved glass plaque (with a typo!), and given the chance to say a few words. That was my most Oscar-like moment to day! I felt that same joyousness I had tasted when I was 8, in the Bulgarian countryside.What makes winning with hard work so different from winning when having fun? Is personal achievement a less appreciated win in my mind than when serving others? Who do I thank when under the spotlight? Would I rather be thanked and recognized in someone else’s Oscar winner speech?

Who do I thank when under the spotlight?

In his Oscar acceptance speech for Best actor in “The Revenant”, Leonardo di Caprio said, “Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted.” I never took Mother Earth for granted. But  I had never thought of the second part of his statement.
As I am entering the second half of my life, these words ring true louder – do not take for granted your achievements, accomplishments, and accolades. Our lives are our movies. Being the best actor in that leading role is all we can do, and earn that lifetime Oscar.  

About Iliana Genkova

Iliana Genkova is a scientist and a living abroad strategist. She has published science and non-fiction, facilitated memoir workshops, and won The Chicago Literary Club’s Collyer Fellowship 2021-2023. She likes big cities, Dutch bicycles, maps, weather satellites and Greek food. Follow Iliana on Facebook at @olivemaps and Instagram at @ilianagenkova.

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