A Theme of Paganini

Years ago, when we lived in Chicago, I bought a vinyl album that included Variations on a Theme of Paganini and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. I played that album over and over and over again. For some reason, I was absolutely entranced by both pieces of music. I remember them as being quite different, but somehow they seemed like bookends; they fit together. I have no idea what happened to that album. I may still have it. But I no longer have a working turntable on which to play it, even if the album is safely tucked away among all the vinyl I kept. Early this morning, I dreamed I was sitting at my big oaken desk in the corner of my basement (neither of which exist), looking through the ground-level window at a snow-covered forest scene, listening to those two pieces of music.  When I woke up, I thought I could still hear the music. But it was my imagination. And I could remember nothing else of the dream.


It’s rare that I read my blog posts on the day I post them. Yesterday, though, I did. A cursory reading revealed quite a few typos and/or unresolved thought conflicts. A thought conflict, in my vernacular, is a decision to write a string of words according to a specific structure that, mentally, changes mid-stream, without correcting the thinking that already flowed through the fingers to the screen. The result, for the reader, may be double words, misplaced words, incoherent sentences, etc. At any rate, my cursory review of the post yesterday led to a few corrections. I did not read the post with the intent of correcting thought conflicts and other such errors, though; so, it could be laced with them, still. If I ever compile my blog posts into a book or other such form of ego-driven consolidation, I will need an editor. I am pretty good at editing others’ work; I am bad, in the extreme, at editing my own.


I had dinner with my next-door-neighbors last night. I am sure I have written before they are genuinely good people. That fact remains. They are generous, kind, and compassionate. I hope they are as assiduous at keeping their distance from others while grocery shopping and otherwise interacting with the world as they suggest. I hope that’s true of me, as well. Most of our dinners in recent months have taken place on their beautiful deck. Last night, though, was too chilly and wet, so we ate inside. They ordered eggplant parmesan for the three of us; from Dolce Vita, the Italian restaurant inside the Village. A slow-paced dinner, nice wine, and wide-ranging conversation was a good way to unwind the day.

This morning, I will have brunch with a friend. I am not a social butterfly; these two back-to-back meals “out” just coincidentally fell into place. Today’s brunch will be the first time, I think, she and I will have had the opportunity to sit down together without a flurry of other conversations taking place all around the table. I look forward to a conversation uninterrupted by interjections by five or six other people. I do not mean that those conversations are not pleasing, as well; but one-on-one conversations (or two-on-one conversations…small groups) are more appealing to me.


Yesterday’s visit with my wife was short. She was unable to look at me without turning her head to look at me outside her window, so most of the conversation was a bit like talking past one another. The content, too, was condensed. She was tired and preferred to sleep than to exert herself by talking with me. Her voice seemed a bit stronger, though, than it had the day before. She had eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the nurse told me by phone on Friday; my wife told me she had that meal for breakfast yesterday.

I spent a few hours online yesterday, reacquainting myself with the symptoms of congestive heart failure. My wife exhibits most of them. The prognoses for the disease all seem to suggest a gradual and sometimes accelerating progression that leads, ultimately, to extremely complex and invasive treatments in efforts toward survival. Treatments like: heart transplantation; left ventricular assist device (LVAD) implantation; various forms of heart reconstruction like valve repair and revascularization, dynamic cardiomyoplasty, partial left ventriculectomy, and the Acorn procedure, among others. These all follow attempts to achieve deceleration of symptoms through medications, many of which my wife’s cardiologists have tried with varying degrees of success.

The doctors at the hospital where she recently spent two weeks say she can get better through medications and therapy. But therapy requires the body to be fueled. And it requires the body to be capable of achieving strength regeneration. I wish I could have my wife’s cardiologist visit with her for an extended examination and conversation and, then, give me his unvarnished opinion as to her prognosis. But that apparently is impossible without breaking various rules and requiring the doctor to be extremely inconvenienced. That should not be even a remote concern. But it is. And that makes me angry with medicine and healthcare and systemic roadblocks to compassion.


I still haven’t had breakfast. Perhaps, since I’m going to have brunch in two and  a half hours, I shouldn’t. But I should shower and shave. And I should finish my coffee. I got up early enough to wash a load of laundry, dry it, and hang up several shirts. And I played several games of Words with Friends. And I’ve written what I’m now wrapping up. Still, I should have gotten up earlier. I should be finishing this post while the sky is still attempting to break out of the darkness. Only when I have finished my blog post and the sky remains at least only very dimly-lit do I feel unrushed. I like to emerge slowly into the day, watching the sunlight wash over the clouds slowly  (or, on a day like today, seep gently through dense fog). I may have to start using an alarm to wake me at reasonable hours. I wonder whether my age is catching up with me? I still love early mornings best. But do they still love me as much? I suppose I need to keep a journal of my waking hours, tracking whether changes in my waking habits are flukes or, instead, whether they are telling me I need to give up my cherished pre-daylight solitude?

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to A Theme of Paganini

  1. I’m glad to know you enjoy that music! Perhaps I should look for my old album and come play it on your turntable one of these days! 😉

  2. Patty Dacus says:

    I, too, am a great fan of Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini! When I was in my mid-20’s I got to see Van Cliburn perform it with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and I fell in love with it. I bought the Van Cliburn album, which I still have, and played it over and over, as you did. I still get it out and play it from time to time… still moves me every time. Luckily, I do have a turntable and still love my vinyl. 🙂

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