Paperweights aren't useless after all

THE magazine was recommending, strongly recommending, chic paperweights. ''Desk-top refreshers,'' the magazine called them. One paperweight - very ''high-tech,'' or so the magazine promised - consisted of a tiny Japanese music box inside a cast-aluminum rock, if you fancy the pun. The tune: the Beatles' ''Yesterday.''

If this $40 rock might seem an extravagance your papers would feel embarrassed beneath, the magazine also recommended a $15 plastic weight, ''hand-formed'' to resemble a crumpled sheet of yellow legal paper.

But what use were these ''witty weights,'' as the magazine dubbed them, if your desk barely allowed space to accommodate the magazine itself? Surrounding the open pages, surrounding the photographs of the weights, you have already marshaled a small army of bric-a-brac beyond the dreams of any paperweight adviser.

A short inventory follows: a gold pocket watch, more or less permanently set at 10:58; a glass hippopotamus, filled with paper clips; a ceramic owl; a ceramic snail; two small Greek busts in replica; a 1980 Christmas card, cut in the silhouette of a church; a china plaque with a picture of Boston Light; and last but far from least, a scattering of seashells.

Until that moment, you had not realized how much you owned besides a desk.

Once you had been austerity itself when it came to your desk. The Sahara could not have been more bare than your flattop.

Now, in addition to these formal and informal paperweights, your desk carried a calendar, a glue stick, an anthology of light verse, two dictionaries, and a ring of photographs, depicting family, one godson, and two long-lost cats.

When had the Sahara turned into an old curio shop? More important question: Why?

The move from less to mess had been so gradual you had failed to register it as a change in character. Not only the desk but the walls around it had somehow covered themselves to the saturation point. A cork bulletin board was crammed to the edges with post cards, addresses, the titles of books yet to be read, a travel brochure, a menu with sentimental associations - and more snapshots. Lots more. On a windowsill stood the photograph of a grandmother when she was in fourth grade, posed with classmates in front of her grammar school.

As to why - why would a desk-owner turn his desk, and indeed his whole study, into the moral equivalent of a junkyard? You could not say.

Thoreau had once thrown his only paperweight - a real rock - back into the Walden woods whence it came, because it constituted clutter. As a fellow desk-owner, you had once agreed with the sometime hermit of Concord: ''Blessed be nothing.'' But Thoreau abandoned his Walden cabin, and you walked out on your austerity, too, becoming your own opposite - a pack rat.

If there is an answer to the reversal, it lies in loneliness. A study is a solitary place. Of all rooms, a study has to be inhabited - peopled. The person on this desert island, with book and papers and words, requires not only the hanging plant above the desk but the note from a friend taped to it.

Every object in the room becomes an act of faith, connecting to the living history outside this exiled universe of four-walls-with-a-desk.

Every object in the room becomes a message in a bottle sent to - not from - that desert island, saying: ''You are not alone.''

The message is so invaluable that, when you get it, you have to own at least one paperweight to hold it down.

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