The (Bargain) Price of Freedom

Image by blue2likeyou

On Sunday afternoon, I bought myself 60 minutes of Freedom.

I clicked on a small icon on my desktop – a clock with a shield in front of it. A pop-up window appeared and asked, as if it were the simplest matter in the world:

How many minutes of freedom would you like?

Hmm, I thought to myself.  All three kids were napping – hallelujah! – and my husband was upstairs, watching the Eagles and the Redskins, ready to attend to whichever child woke up first.  And there I was, just me, alone at my cluttered desk in the basement.

How many minutes of freedom would you like?

60, I thought.  60 would be enough to get some writing done before I had to get back upstairs to fold laundry, to wipe runny noses, to start chopping the onions for the soup.  60 was the right number.  Less than I wanted, maybe more than I should have asked for on that rainy afternoon with a house full of sick kids.

How many minutes of freedom would you like?

I entered “60.”  I clicked “OK.”  And just like that: Freedom.

Or a 21st century version, at least.  Freedom, you see, is a computer application that disables your Internet for as long as you ask it to – up to eight hours!  My iPhone upstairs, Freedom running on my computer, my kids asleep, my husband on guard.  Just me and my computer-rendered-typewriter.

And here’s what I did:  I opened up a Word document with an old, ailing essay and polished it up.  I wrote.  I edited.  I added some words.  I took others away.  I tried to shape a story out of a collection of anecdotes.

While I was writing, my monkey mind prattled on as it always does.  And my right little finger twitched toward the Alt key and my left index finger toward the Tab key so that I could escape from my writing into the wilds of the Internet.  To shoot off that email to Stephanie about dinner on Saturday, re-categorize last week’s blog post into “parenting” and “writing” instead of “living,” update my homework assignment on Meagan’s Facebook page, check the YourTango writer’s guidelines to see if this essay would be a fit, look up how to spell contrapposto, look up the definition of ad hoc to make sure I was using it properly.

But Freedom wouldn’t allow it.  Freedom kept my fingers where they were and my eyes on my essay.  And, oh, the liberation – the freedom! – of being able to just write – no chance – no excuse – to stop.

I first learned about Freedom from Dani Shapiro at our writing workshop at Kripalu.  Afterward, my friend Elizabeth pointed me toward an essay Dani had written about it and about the ways the rabbit warren of the Internet threatens to derail her writing.  First an e-mail, then a thought about a chest of drawers in the novel she’s writing, then a form for summer camp.  She writes

Had Jane Kenyon (or Virginia Woolf, for that matter) lived long enough to be told to build a twitter platform, she might have resisted. She might—as many of us do—have found ways to build a fortress around herself, a cathedral of peace and silence. She would have emerged from that cathedral…only in her own time, and at her own bidding. Or so I like to think. Yet, whether rose quartz, blindfold, earmuffs, spiral-bound notebook, or a small cabin off the grid, still, we all need help, sometimes. The noise in our heads is growing louder, and louder still. We all have good days and bad days, don’t we?

I feel like I need that help Dani writes about.  And I’m grateful to know that Freedom can be mine for the bargain price of $10.  I’m still in the midst of my free trial now and am certainly tempted to shell out the money for the full application.

But I’m left wondering: how free am I really if I need to pay an invisible man inside my computer to grant me what my will power can’t?

Do you have will power where the Internet is concerned?  How much would you pay for freedom?


42 responses to “The (Bargain) Price of Freedom

  1. I’m a big fan of Freedom … I find it a little terrifying that we need it, and also find the name of the program alarmingly rich with metaphor, but the fact remains that I am in greatly in need!

  2. Never heard of it, but what an interesting idea! Like you, I think I’d be a little nervous and monkey-brained at first, but if you just accept it and go…

  3. Oh, the power of Alt-Tab! How it beckons! Luckily (?) my Romanian Internet connection is spotty, so I’m often forced into freedom, to continue the metaphor and irony. =>

  4. As someone who has only a “stupid phone,” I have no access to email, Google, Facebook, etc., when I am off the computer. But I have found if I don’t turn my computer on (on the weekend), then I mostly don’t miss it. If it weren’t for fantasy football (have to check my lineup for game-time decisions!), I could probably stay computer-less for two whole days.

    It is not easy, and I have very little willpower. But as a frugal person, I would not pay for a service like that. Then again, having only one kid, I generally have more freedom than most others.

    • You know, you’re making your “stupid phone” situation sound very smart indeed. 🙂

    • P.S. Who are your key fantasy players this season? My husband doesn’t play fantasy football, but is pretty much glued to the TV screen on fall Sundays. He’s a Jets fan and has taught our boys to say “J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets!” Pretty cute, actually.

      • Other than Drew Brees, who is the bomb, and Darren McFadden, I don’t have a lot of well-known/popular players. (I guess Jeremy Maclin is, just not so much to me.)

        We, as Pittsburghers, are, not surprisingly, Steeler fans. My eight-year-old knows of at least a half dozen players, the coach, and some cheers. I have to raise her right! 🙂

  5. This is one reason why I’ve been writing longhand again. When I’m typing, it is too, too easy to get online “just to check a fact,” and then find myself half an hour later with nothing written and time wasted on Twitter and FB.

    I am trying to train myself to keep the computer shut more. I’ve even been thinking about buying an old-fashioned (ha!) CD player, just so I can’t even use the computer for music – when it is open, it’s easier to use it than when I have to physically open it myself. Ah, the tricks we play on ourselves to make our lives simpler and better!

    • I’ve been trying to do some of that too. Dani told us about the writing/proofreading mark “TK” that journalists write (or at least used to) in their copy when more information is to come. I’ve been trying that out instead of stopping again and again to look things up on the Internet.

      I find that that’s my biggest problem. Like you, it starts innocently enough: I stop to check a fact and then I find myself on Zappos looking at raincoats for my son. (That exact scenario, I’m sorry to say, happened yesterday.)

  6. The confirmation email from PayPal is now in my inbox. I paid the $10. Seems a small price for freedom.

    The resistance is rife – externally, to be sure; internally, beyond belief. But then such should not surprise me. It is this work – of creating, writing, being – in which I’m telling the truth. It is this work that is risky, dangerous, and revealing. It’s no wonder distractions get the best of me, of us.

    I’m grateful for the recommendation, Kristen; even more, the reminder that I’m not alone in my struggles, in my frustrations, in my hopes. This – even more than time – makes all the difference.

    • You’ve really got me thinking, Ronna, about where I find resistance – and that tendency to click away – when I’m writing. I wonder if it’s something like what happens in yoga when I come upon a “stuck spot”: ease off and the world won’t end, but keep on working it and I might just get a revelation.

  7. oh, I love the idea of this program! when I used to ‘work from home’ some days at my old job, I literally had to shut the internet totally OFF to focus on typing up documentation. my boyfriend, sadly, is worse than I am – he’s usually got 2 or 3 windows open w/10+ tabs open in each at any given time. can we say ADD?

  8. Isn’t it interesting how those of us who possess extreme self-discipline in many areas of life have such a hard time with this? I have heard of this (and similar) apps before, but I love your firsthand account (and gracious acknowledgment how hard it was to really BE in freedom-mode). Thank you!

  9. Firstly, Kristen, thank you. These words bring me just what I am needing at this moment, unable as I have been since before dawn to quell my racing mind for all the seemingly good-hearted things I wish to express, contribute and give.

    And yet I know that I must calm it way down, but I cannot do this alone, and so I link virtually, visit your Salon and sit on the velvet couch amongst the noble spirits you draw here.

    As for how much freedom I might like, it got me thinking about how the con-artist always preys upon the greed of the mark. How much money would you like? How much power?

    We’re living in the “land of the free.” To crib from Elvis Costello, we’ve seen Freedom get so expensive but we’ve never seen Freedom so dear.

    Thus if we secretly desire some sort of total freedom, we are vulnerable to that trickster who seeks to part us from our “cash” (our energy, and at zero percent interest in our well-being), selling us air and fairy dust.

    We’re either free or we are not. It’s realizing that we are free that sets us free. The truth, it is said, sets us free. Perhaps Love is the “god” that sets us free as well?

    So, let’s not confabulate “time” with “freedom.” Nelson Mandella became free while doing time, and he set others free out of his realization, love and courage.

    Let’s write for Love. Let’s write the same way and for the same reasons that we parent, help others, enjoy friends. Let’s break down the Berlin Wall between work and play, and become free of our fears (that we suck and will die alone and unloved) and desires (to prove to ourselves that we truly are good enough). These may not be everybody’s fears, but they are very often the fears of the smart and the anxious.

    I’m truly trying to write myself to the end of words, although at this point I cannot help but use too many of them. Forgive me. I bank on your calm spirit, your natural gift for Motherese, to help me stop, or at least write more succinctly.

    I find myself using too many words to sincerely assure you that we truly want to hear from you, we enjoy hearing from you. Don’t worry about the lines between blog and essay and “book.” I’m very interested in listening to what you have to say/write, and I think that the more that you are free in realizing that who you already are (which is great) IS what you “write” perhaps the more you can trust that your writing initially connects you to a wider circle, but now that circle is around you and playfully hanging out WHILE you write. But also while you walk, do laundry, nap. I honor and appreciate your spirit even if you don’t write, when you are buffering, etc. Perhaps as we learn to trust that we are connected to a creative force (Love) we can find freedom to create and express and equally freedom not to—and best of all an organic harmony between seeming opposites (too “free” and we feel alone, too constricted and we feel trapped and engulfed).

    Maybe we don’t write so that we can live forever on some shelf or in someone else’s future mind, or to prove ourselves lovable (or perhaps to prove we even exist and have a voice) but rather we work, love and play so that we might grow better at loving, working and playing in some way that feels soft and fun and right.

    Paying “the Man” for our freedom is like bringing the broom to the Wizard of Oz. It’s Toto (Latin for everything) that sets us free. Still you have to love that old Wizard—he’s a guy you want to go shoe shopping with.

    • “[Maybe] we work, love and play so that we might grow better at loving, working and playing in some way that feels soft and fun and right.”

      When I’m feeling soft and fun and right – through writing or reading or building Lego towers on the floor – I don’t think so much about checking my e-mail or looking for the latest sale on ruby slippers. Then again, I don’t think so much in general; I just am. And the price of that is always right.

  10. I have terrible willpower when it comes to the computer. I do not even bother with a timer because I would turn it off. Oh and to have 60 minutes to write? Heaven.

  11. When his latest novel (ironic that it’s titled “Feedom”) was published last year I heard an interview with Jonathan Franzen wherein he confessed that in order to write his novels he goes to a rented office space that is completely vacant save for one desk and one chair. He writes on a years-old Dell laptop (pre-wireless capability) on which he has disabled the ethernet port by cutting the cord off of an ethernet cable and super-gluing the plug into the ethernet port. All he can do is write. So you’re certainly not alone in your need to manufacture your focus. Perhaps we should be better able to focus on our own, but I think knowing and working within your own limitations is almost as big a challenge.

    • Thanks for this, Gale: “knowing and working within your own limitations is almost as big a challenge.” That might actually be one of my life’s biggest hurdles: recognizing my weaknesses, accepting them, and finding a way to deal with them. If only my tendency to get lost in the world of the Internet probably were the worst of them.

  12. That’s when I really like a notebook, a nice pen, and a park bench. 🙂

  13. I have been killing two birds with one stone: putting the sleepless baby in the car and driving up the coast in the afternoon until she’s asleep, and then parking somewhere I can see the ocean and either writing longhand or with my iPad (no 3G) and a Bluetooth keyboard. So if you add up the cost of car and carseat, iPad and keyboard, I’m pretty heavily invested.

  14. It’s funny that you write this now, since I was just looking into the Freedom app this week. Like Dona B., I also use my 3G-less iPad to get some work done now and then (but without her spectacular view). But when I’m home, connected to the internet, I’m hopeless. I share your question as to whether or not I need to pay my computer to keep me away from the internet. I keep thinking I am surely stronger than that, but then in the middle of a sentence I wander off to check my email. Freedom is sounding pretty good.

  15. First…I’m interrupting a writing session because I just remembered that I read this and so obviously had to click over to chrome right away and come here to comment. Clearly.
    Second – I’m using OmWriter for Mac which I’m in love with. You CAN click away from a writing session, but it makes sure to chastise you first. Plus it works in full screen mode only, doesn’t distract you with lots of formatting options, spell check, thesaurus etc and you get beautiful, stark landscapes upon witch to write. Oh, and the best thing, little clicky noises as I type. I feel SO productive.
    But, clearly it looks like I need OMWriter AND Freedom. Gah.

  16. So much wisdom here. We need to “free” ourselves from the tools that were supposed to free up time.

    Especially hard for writers I think. Especially critical for writers I think. The lure – here – the ease of it. Not necessarily a good thing.

    I’ll be coming back to this post I think. Um, unless I choose an hour of freedom. Or maybe more.


  17. I just signed up for Freedom, after a particularly ridiculous work session filled with internet distraction. Such an ironic tool.

  18. Freedom scares me. 🙂 But I can see the appeal — and the need for it. Wouldn’t pay for it – especially when I can just turn my Internet off myself. But real freedom? I would pay but pretty sure I cant afford.

  19. First of all, BRAVA to you for carving out an hour (!!) for you, your soul and your career.

    Secondly, I have the same itchy finger that always wants to hop onto other things when I’m writing. “Just a little mental break”, I’ll think. I wonder how many truly deep, wonderful pieces I’ve broken with those constant little breaks.

    Good stuff questions here, friend. xo

  20. Alt+Tab – my fingers are poised at those two buttons all. the. time. (That and Ctrl+Z – hah!) As I type this, my Chrome has these tabs open: Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, an unread article from Twitter and your blog. If I hit alt+tab, it would alternate to my work email, or a PDF doc I’m supposed to review or a Word doc that I’m supposed to be working on. I have computer ADHD.

    When I leave the computer, my phone fills that void. It’s quite ridiculous. Freedom sounds really attractive to me. If I don’t have willpower, I guess I’ll just have to depend on discipline outside of myself. Money well spent I think.

    Good for you for taking this first, important step to liberate yourself from that which distracts you and takes you away from your writing. It’s ironic – in finding freedom from the internet, you are more likely to be tethered to your task at hand.

  21. You piqued my interest… How can a computer program grant “Freedom” to a mother of small children? My own freedom-granter is frequently working on a project in his workshop these days, which I feel he really needs to do, so my freedom often only comes from insomnia.
    I wonder whether the difficulty lies in seeing writing as “work” or not. It is not part of my (ahem) job, so I struggle with screwing off on the internet too much while I’m here. But my time on the computer at home is precious and I rarely look at anything on the internet without purpose, at least not for long. I carve my writing time out of that precious home-computer time, and if I had to go back later to check facts, it would just slow down my writing process. Or maybe I would post and realize my errors later (the horror). I would say Freedom might help me at work, but I do need the internet for legitimate purposes as well. It’s too bad my internal controls are not set to a high level of self-discipline…
    My question remains… Does Freedom really help you feel free?

    • So many good questions here.

      First off, you’re absolutely right: my real freedom-granters are my husband and our babysitter. I wouldn’t have time to write much at all without their help.

      Second of all, I’ve definitely made the shift to calling writing my work. Nevertheless, I still find myself sucked into the web more easily than I’d like. And a lot of it is for research purposes, but it’s remarkable how quickly research can turn into a funny YouTube video…

  22. oh wow. this is so interesting. SO on my mind lately. A lot. I loved this. thank you.

    I love that last little paragraph. Good question. I guess I need to buy freedom for my lack of self control because I’m just so dang impulsive.

  23. So glad you read the article — now *I* need some Freedom. Seriously. I am struggling SO much with just sitting down and doing what needs to be done.

  24. So nice to know I am not the only one struggling with monkey mind, willpower, and freedom from the internet. Lovely post as always!

  25. We’ve discussed this at length at work, the will power to focus, the ability to shut out distractions. Several of my more senior colleagues find it silly that a program would be needed, but given that the majority of my work is social media, media relations and reaction to day-to-day issues, I think it makes perfect sense. I just wish I had the willpower to shut it all off. Distraction is far too pervasive in my life.

  26. Yeah… I quite often disable my wireless card when I need to focus! 🙂

  27. I haven’t any problem turning off the net. What makes me crazy are my dogs and the incessant ringing of the telephone. Can’t get rid of either one so…

  28. To me this boils down to how you write. And there is no right way. No right way to approach anything. Everyone is different in this distracted world. I like (as usual) what Bruce said. What makes you think your book is more important than this blog? Maybe the most important thing you will ever write was a blog post you did a year ago and forgot about, while the baby was crying and you were buying a pair of shoes.

  29. I’ve never heard of this freedom thing, but I should look into it. I had 10 tabs open today and kept flipping back and forth amongst them trying to figure out what in the world I needed to be doing at that moment.

    An hour later our area lost online service for nearly 5 hours. After the initial panic, I experienced a refreshing clear-headedness that I faintly remember is what life felt like (for me) pre-Internet.

  30. I don’t need to withdraw from Internet to write, but sometimes I feel empty when I surf the web so that program could be effective. But somehow I think I’ll stick to willpower. Or try.

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