Something is Missing by
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Earth HouseSomething was awry in my life. There was a dissatisfaction, an undercurrent of discontent that was there all the time, no matter how hard I gathered in friends and possessions and activities.

In therapy, I talked until I was sick of talking. In meditation I was to be silent and listen.

I went to a therapist, hoping to find out what was wrong with me by scrutinizing my past and my dreams. I thought that eventually all the old buried and petrified stuff of my life would bubble up and explode like lava out of a volcano, and afterward I would be changed. I kept waiting for this to happen. But instead of finding answers I found new questions, I piled up questions more and more thickly around myself, I explained and analyzed everything I had ever done, combing through it for the key to my gloom and anger and discovering instead only new places to look.

In therapy, I talked until I was sick of talking. In meditation I was to be silent and listen. “It’s all there,” the Guide said, “everything you need to know. Just pay attention, you’ll start to see.” She told this story to illustrate:

“Suppose you get up one morning to find that the book you were reading the night before is gone. You think you’ve misplaced it. You look all over the house, but you can’t find it. Very puzzling. The next morning, you see when you get up that a lamp is gone from an end table. This is alarming. You check all the doors—they’re locked. You check the windows: locked, too. And yet the lamp is gone. The next morning, you discover that the couch has disappeared. Unmistakable—a blank place where it once was. Terrible! You are being robbed! What should you do?

“There are several possible courses. You could call the police. You could call everyone you know who has a key to your house. You could install a burglar alarm system. But the answer that makes the best sense is this: Stay up all night and watch very carefully.

And it’s the same with your life, she told us: if something’s missing, if you suspect that something is going on that mysteriously robs you of your happiness, the best way to get to the bottom of it is to stay awake.

Excerpted from The Earth House by Jeanne DuPrau. New Chapter Press, 1992.

Profile photo of Jeannie Jeannie
Jeanne DuPrau is a writer of fiction and non-fiction for children and adults. She is best known for The City of Ember, a New York Times Children’s Bestseller, and its three companion books, The People of Sparks, The Diamond of Darkhold, and The Prophet of Yonwood. The Ember series is read by children from the age of ten on up and often by adults as well. It was made into a movie starring Bill Murray in 2008. Jeanne is also the author of a young adult novel called Car Trouble, a memoir called The Earth House, several non-fiction books, and various essays, book reviews, and stories.

Characterizations: been there, well written


  1. John Zussman says:

    I love the sound life advice that this passage gives—to stay awake and pay attention—but this excerpt only hints at what Jeanne’s astonishing, luminous memoir The Earth House means to me. The tale begins, as the excerpt suggests, with a vague disquiet. Jeanne and her partner Sylvia learn to meditate from a teacher called The Guide. Then life overtakes them and they try to use those insights to cope. By the end I was both devastated and uplifted. Check out my responsive story, Reading to Bill, to find out why I still feel that way.

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