I’m walking slowly through a bucolic farming village in the French countryside, gawking at a cluster of 100-year-old stone houses with blue shutters and window boxes spilling over with orange geraniums. It’s nearly 10:30 p.m. on the summer solstice, the sun has just set, and a farmer, finished cutting his hay for the day, is driving his tractor down the middle of the road. The magenta hollyhocks are in full bloom, and in this golden light, even the cows—the fattest, healthiest I’ve ever seen, with cinnamon hides and newborn calves—are exquisite. I’ve left my own little ones at home for 10 days, the longest and farthest I’ve been away since they were born. I should be relaxed, but I’m not. All I want to do is write, run, walk, and swim. I’m hungry all the time, and buzzing with so much energy I can barely sleep.
Is it jet lag or insomnia? Separation anxiety? Nope. It’s the quiet. I’m here at La Ferme de Villefavard on a six-day silent writing retreat, no talking allowed. Before I arrived, I worried that the hush would freak me out or hobble me with homesickness, but the opposite is true: Silence is addictive. It’s a performance-enhancing drug. From writing to running, it makes me better at everything I do.