I’ll miss you, but I’m taking a sabbatical

Hello everyone. I will be taking an extended break from kottke.org, starting today. I’ve been writing here for over 24 years, almost half of my life – I need to breathe. It’s something I’ve been thinking about and planning for years1 and I’d like to share why I’m doing it, how it’s going to work, what I hope to accomplish, and how you can help.

It’s a long article and it was difficult to write – I hope you will give it your full attention. But first, let me introduce you to my plant.

(It’s going somewhere. Trust me.)

Eight years ago, while still living in New York, I purchased a fiddle leaf fig tree from a store in the Flower District. Here it is a few years ago, thriving next to my office here in Vermont:

I had recently moved into my own apartment after separating from my wife and thought that a large plant in my new place would add liveliness to a fresh start that felt overwhelming, lonely and sad. For the first two months, I didn’t know if my tree and I were going to make it. I had never really had a plant before and had a hard time getting the watering schedule and other plant care routines under control. It started losing leaves. Like, an alarming number of leaves.

I had brought this glorious living being into my house only to kill it! Not cool. With the stress of the separation, my new life situation and not seeing my children every day, I felt a bit like I was dying too.

One day I decided that I wasn’t going to let my fiddle leaf fig tree die…and if I could do that, I wasn’t going to fall apart either. It’s a bit cheesy, but my mantra has become “if my tree is fine, I’m fine”. I learned how to water and feed it and figured out the best place to put it for the right amount of light. He stopped losing leaves.

The fig tree was a happy plant for several years after that. And I was fine because my plant was fine – I found new routines and rhythms in my changed life, created new traditions with my children, got divorced, met new people, moved in a new state (with my family and my tree), rediscovered who I was as a person, and wonderfully and unexpectedly forged an encouraging and rewarding parental partnership and friendship with my ex. We went through this difficult time together, this plant and I.

Recently though, my fiddle leaf fig tree has been struggling again. It has lost leaves and become unbalanced – some branches are getting gangbusters while others are almost bare and the plant is impacting one side so badly that everything tips over without the weight of the water in the pot. Here’s what it looks like these days:

a majestic fiddle leaf fig tree leans precariously to one side in a bedroom

My plant is wrong. And neither do I – I feel as off balance as my tree looks. I’m exhausted. I have been for a few years now. I tried to get out of it, but if you’ve read anything about burnout, you know this approach doesn’t work.

I appreciate such what I’ve built here at kottke.org – I get to read and learn all kinds of new things every day, create new ideas and connections for people, and think in public – and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to define my my own schedule, being my own boss and supporting my family. But if you were to go back to the archives of the last few months and read the site carefully, you would see that I am struggling.

Does what I do here make a difference in the lives of others? In my life? Does it still scratch the creative itch it used to? And if not, what needs to change? Where does kottke.org end and Jason begin? Who am I without my job? Is the validation I get from the site sound? Is having to be active on social networks healthy? Is it healthy to have to read the horrible news every day? What else could I do here? What else could I be doing? What good is a blog without a thriving community of other blogs? I tried to think about these questions and many more while continuing my work here, but I didn’t make much progress; I need time to take a step back.

· · ·

So. The plan, as it currently stands, is to be away from the site for 5-6 months. I will not post anything new here. I will not publish the newsletter. There will also be no guest editor – if anyone else published here it would always be on my mind and I am looking for a complete absence here. I’m planning to set up a system to repost some timeless articles from the archives while I’m away, but it’s not quite in place yet. If you send me an email (please do!), it might take me a while to read it and even longer to respond to it – I plan to ignore my inbox as much as possible. I probably won’t be on Twitter but I will be more active on Instagram if you want to follow me there.

The purpose of my time away from site is to rest, reset, recharge and figure out what to do next. In this NY Times report, Alexandra Bell had this to say about how art is created: “I need a space to think, live, have generative conversations and do things, and then I’ll do something , but I can’t tell you what it is”. is just still. This is the kind of energy I need for a few months.

Here’s how I thought of it: there’s a passenger ferry that goes from Cape Cod to Nantucket and there’s a period of time in the middle of the trip where you can’t see the mainland behind you and still can’t see the island in front of you – you’re just in the middle of the water. That’s what I need, to be in that middle part – to forget what I’ve been doing here for so many years without having to think about where I’m going in the future. I need free water and 5-6 months seems like the right amount of time to find it.

· · ·

This is probably a good time to admit that I’m a little terrified of taking this time off. There’s no real roadmap for this, no plan for indie creators taking sabbaticals to recharge. The United States lacks the social safety net to allow extended breaks from work (or many other things, including health care) for people with odd internet careers. I support many individual writers, artists, YouTubers, and bloggers through Substack, Patreon, and other channels, and over the years I’ve seen some of them churning out content at breakneck speed to keep their momentum going, just to burn out and stop doing the projects that I and a lot of other people used to love. With more and more people pursuing freelance work funded directly by readers and viewers these days, it’s something all of us, creators and supporters, are going to have to think about.

I’ve said it many times over the past 5 years: kottke.org wouldn’t be possible today without the incredible member support I’ve received from people who read this site. Members have made this site free for everyone to read, enriching the open web and reversing the trend of paid information online. I hope you will continue to support me by taking this necessary time off.

If for any reason you want to pause/suspend your subscription until I get back, email me and I’ll be happy to do that for you. You are also free to increase or decrease your member support here if you wish. Whatever you choose to do, I hope to see you back here in the fall.

· · ·

If you’re curious about what’s on my agenda for the next few months, so am I! I’m leaving soon for a long-planned family trip, but other than that, I don’t have any specific plans. Suggestions and advice are welcome! I would like to spend quiet time with my children, who see me too often when I am stressed from work. I want to read more books. Watch more great movies. Take more photos. Participate in useless adventures. I want to exercise a little more regularly and figure out how to eat a little better. Maybe traveling, visiting friends or the ocean or both. Bike more. Fix the walls. I hope to be a little bored. I have to take care of my fiddle leaf fig tree – if my tree is doing well, so will I.

I’m going to miss it – and all of you – more than I probably realize right now, but I’m ready for a break. I’ll see you in a few months.

*deep breath*

I go!

*jumped up*

· · ·

PS The best way to keep tabs on the site restart is to sign up for the newsletter. You can also follow @kottke on Twittersubscribe to the RSS feed or follow me on Instagram so you don’t miss a thing.

PPS Many thanks to the many people I have talked to about this over the past months and years, especially Anil, AlainaDavid, Adrian, Tim, carolina, Matt, Joanna, Meg, Aaron, Edith, Kara, Megan, Anna, Jackson and Michelle. (Forgive me if I forgot anyone.) I appreciate your sage advice and hopefully pointing you in the right direction.

PPPS A quick blogroll if you’re looking for sites and newsletters to keep you busy while I’m gone. In no particular order, a non-exhaustive list: The Kid Should See This, The Morning News, Waxy, Colossal, Curious About Everything, Open Culture, Drawing Links, Clive Thompson @ Medium, Cup of Jo, swissmiss, Storythings, Things magazine, Present & Correct, Spoon & Tamago, Dense Discovery, Austin Kleon, NextDraft, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Poetry Is Not a Luxury, A Thing or Two, The Honest Broker, Interconnected, The Whippet, Craig Mod, Why is this interesting?, Sidebar , The Prepared, Life Is So Beautiful, Fave 5, Sentiers, The Fox Is Black and Scrapbook Chronicles. Good hunt!

    More about…

    Comments are closed.