Inspiration is spelled SANDA


'Tears In My Polenta for Sanda'

‘Tears In My Polenta for Sanda’

This is a picture of my 3rd acrylic on canvas painting, entitled Tears In My Polenta for Sanda. 

Sanda Balaban has been my mentor and one of my closest friends since we were matched in a program during my senior year in high school. There aren’t enough words in the English language to describe what an inspiration she has been to me over the decade and a half I’ve been blessed to know her. There are so many stories I could (and likely will) share about her, but for now I’ll just tell the story that inspired this painting. 

In 1998, I had returned to Boston from college for Christmas break. Sanda and I had planned to meet up to do something artisticly fabulous, which we are prone to do. That evening I believe she’d taken me to see some friends of hers perform in an improv comedy group in Cambridge Square. Afterwards, she took me to a very nice Italian restaurant for dinner. After looking at the menu, I decided to order a polenta dish, which is cornmeal mash. When our food arrived, I took one bite of the creamy, savory goop and instantly fell in love with the flavor and the texture of polenta. Every taste of the dish was pure heaven. In the midst of my indulgence in a new-found ambrosia, Sanda dropped the bomb that she was moving from Boston, back to New York. 

The world paused. The deliciousness of that polenta evaporated as the news sank in. And next came tears. First a trickle, then a stream, followed by a DELUGE of tears! It was an impressive display of inexplicable emotion. No one was more shocked than Sanda herself. Why was I so upset by this news, when I no longer lived in Boston myself? 

To me, her departure represented a loss. I was (quite irrationally) fearful of the sudden end of our mentorship and friendship. I (quite wrongfully) attributed her location in Boston as the reason we remained a part of each others lives. I was reassured knowing that I could see her anytime I came to Boston during school breaks. Sanda had already made her indelible mark on my existence. Anything that further separated us seemed to threaten the core of who I was then and who I was becoming. Losing Sanda, by any means, was to lose my inspiration. 

I don’t recall if or how I was able to explain my reaction to her in that moment. I know at some point the dinner ended, and we parted ways. Shortly after, I returned to college in Atlanta, and Sanda moved to New York. Of course, we remained connected. 

Ten years later, when I decided to experiment with painting, I was inspired to create a piece that captured how I feel about Sanda, using the color purple, which is the color of Inspiration. I gave it to Sanda on her next visit. It’s the only painting I’ve done for and given to someone else. 

I have never known anyone as special as Sanda, nor shall I. She is the epitome of so many things–a mentor, a friend, a confidant…a muse! She’s the main reason I believe SO DEEPLY in mentorship, and myself. We have grown so much closer over the growing geographical distances that have separated us since. One way or another, she and I have managed to reunite in person at least twice a year. Our get-togethers are the continuation of a never-ending conversation on life as it is has been lived, as it is being lived, and as it will be lived moving forward.

Sanda and I in Laguna Beach, September 2012

Sanda and I in Laguna Beach, September 2012

I am always curious to hear about the incredible people that inspire others to become great. If you have a Sanda in your life, please share your story with me below. 

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