Tuesday, July 15 at 2 p.m. ET

Ask Jeanne Marie Laskas

Jeanne Marie Laskas
Freelance Writer
Tuesday, July 15, 2008; 2:00 PM

Jeanne Marie Laskas was online Tuesday, July 15 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss the end of her long-running Washington Post Magazine column, "Significant Others," and her future plans.

A transcript follows.

Significant Others Archive



Washington, D.C.: What happened? Why are you leaving us? I really enjoyed your columns in the Washington Post Magazine every week. Are you one of the buyout-takers?

Jeanne Marie Laskas: Hi Everyone! I think I'll ask this question first because I'm getting it a lot. Um, in a nutshell--nothing happened! And no, I'm not a buyout taker. As I tried to express in that last column, it was really time to stretch. I've got some amazing new projects in front of me, and I felt that after 14 years it was time to wrap the column up. Time to start again writing about OTHER PEOPLE. "I'm so sick of myself!" That became a theme over the past year or so. I've been writing about my life for a long time. There is, you know, more interesting stuff out there!


Alexandria, Va.: Okay, how to put this. I love your writing, but having read it only in the Post Magazine and LHJ, I considered it a bit "fluffy." However, I've now gone to your web site and read some of your pieces for GQ and the like, and have really been blown away. Are you planning to publish an anthology of some of these more serious pieces? I, for one, would be first in line at the bookstore!

Jeanne Marie Laskas: YESSSS! And that's exactly what I'm talking about. The stuff I do for GQ--meaty features about coal miners, and one I'm working on this very moment about Alaska pipeline workers--that's where my focus is now. It's how I STARTED as a writer, and now I'm getting back to it. These are character-driven pieces that attempt to get at the stuff that binds us all. Yes, they will be collected in a book called Hidden America, due out by Putnam in 2010.


Anonymous: Your current life seemed to me to be ideal. What about it became unsatisfactory?

Jeanne Marie Laskas: Oh my goodness! Nothing about my life is/was unsatisfactory! At least no more than it is for the next person. Sorry if I appear at all to be whining. It really was just time to open up some space to be able to grow in new ways. Gosh, that sounds abstract. Sorry. I'll try in a moment to give that one some clarity...


Washington, D.C.: Hi, Jeanne Marie. I'm really sorry to see you move on, but all good things do come to an end. However, the first XX Files piece is a stunner! There's clearly a lot of talent out there, none of it mine but at least I can enjoy a good variety.

washingtonpost.com: XX Files: Art of the Bluff (Post, July 13)

Jeanne Marie Laskas: Absolutely! Isn't it a joy? It makes me so happy to see!


Washington, D.C.: Jeanne, I will miss you. I always turned to your column first, then Gene's. (My husband goes to Gene first.) We still joke about my husband's MPA (like wanting to retile the foyer a few hours before a party). I cried after reading stories of adopting your children. I have been reading your column for the whole 14 years! I'm now 42 and I feel that I have been living my adulthood with you. I'll miss you.

Jeanne Marie Laskas: Thanks. Yeah, that husband thing. I'm wondering if Alex, my husband, is online right now and if he is I would like to hear him tell me why he had to take apart the washing machine right before we were leaving for vacation that one time.(Honey???)

That's so cool you've been reading the column all these years. I'm hearing from people who started reading it in highschool and are now out in the world with fancy jobs and I'm thinking woah: that is a loooong time to be writing a column.

I will, however, miss it dearly. Last night I was out in the woods riding horses with my girls and some funny stuff happened and I was like, huh, I don't have a place to put this little anecdote. That's a weird adjustment.


coal miners: Somehow I got referred to the coal miner story in GQ -- not sure how, but online. Could not tell when it was published.

It was great. I can definitely see, now that the girls are growing, how it might make sense to look beyond your own sphere into a larger one. Almost like moving from a work at home to work outside the home mom.

So were you on the road for a while with that piece? It sure seemed like it. How did that go?

But, most importantly, how will we ever learn what happens to your group of friends?

Jeanne Marie Laskas: Yes, on the road a lot for the coal miner piece (off and on for 4 months) and let me tell you what it was like for the Alaska story: dead of winter, minus 45 degrees on a tiny island in the Arctic sea. CRAZY.

Traveling is very very very difficult, but only because of Alex and the girls. It is just hard to be without them. Very hard. But, see, I am trying not to complain. These are all good problems to have.

As for my group of friends, yeah, I know, I sure am gonna need a way of keeping you up to date on all that. Maybe I'll do something on my website. jeannemarielaskas.com Something! Maybe I'll have THEM write in and tell the rest of the story!


Annandale, VA: Hello,

I have enjoyed your column so much over the years. It's always been my favorite part of the magazine. I feel like so many people can relate to your anecdotes. Will there be some other place we can read your work?

Thanks and good luck!

Jeanne Marie Laskas: A lot of big feautres in GQ. And I have a bunch of books out already. I have a website where you can check it all out. Gosh, I keep feeling like I'm doing an ad. Sorry. But in case you're interested: jeannemarielaskas.com


Arlington, Va.: Hi. Been reading your Wash Post column since Day 1. In the early days I really identified with you -- single woman, living in a charming house with a couple cats, enjoying gardening and having a nice elderly woman neighbor along with single women friends who discuss a myriad of life's important issues. Would you please tell us about your upbringing -- who inspired you and supported you. From your articles, it appears that your siblings have all gone onto interesting careers in a number of different directions. Thank you and good luck to you. You will be missed.

Jeanne Marie Laskas: I'm the youngest of 4 kids. I grew up in a suburb of Philly. My dad was a doctor and my mom was a painter and everyone was LOUD!!! Like, really, really loud. At least from my perspective as the youngest. My sister Claire was just reminding me how I used to run away all the time, trying to get noticed! HA! How pathetic!!! Well, the siblings were all branded overachievers and I was branded the lazy one, which I didn't mind because it meant I didn't have to do dishes. I was more the one who looked on. I swear all that observing forced me to think: who ARE these people? It's a good background for a writer. Both my parents encouraged me enormously. I wanted to be a painter, like my mom. I had a nun in highschool who made me write compositions every week, and it was done deal after that. I swear sometimes I felt my column was just another composition for Sister Mary Hyde, bless her soul!


Bel Air, Md.: I hope this isn't too personal, but you've written about it, so: how is Sasha's speech coming along? I hope she's a real little chatterbox by now.

Jeanne Marie Laskas: Thank you for asking. Sasha will not, repeat, not stop talking. In fact, she was just up here blabbing at me about where to plant some flowers. Girls are outside today planting all the flowers I never got in. (That's sad. Still sticking zinnias in the ground in mid-July! See how things are around here?) Anyway, Sasha's speech problems are officially in the past, I am very happy to report.


Reston, Va.: Your writing in the Post magazine has always been a highlight for me. I'll miss your column, though if I were friends or family, I'd be relieved. You were the last reason to read the magazine each Sunday. Good bye and best of luck!

Jeanne Marie Laskas: HA!! Yeah, my mom is a little relieved. She was REALLY getting sick of being written about. I get that question a lot: how do people in my life deal with being characters in columns. The answer is I really do make sure it's okay with them before I even write anything. Some friends have asked that I never ever write about them. Some get miffed when they don't appear often enough. I am putting this all in the present tense here, because I still am writing columns (monthly, a much lighter schedule) for Ladies' Home Journal.


Anonymous: You used to run away a lot as a child. Please stop running away. Stay with us, please!

Jeanne Marie Laskas: HA!!! No, I swear those running days are over. Seriously, I got all the attention I need and more! Stopping the column is really a life affirming deal. (Is that corny?) Don't we all have those times? You know, I think of it as a TV show that had its run. Better to stop it when it's still strong. Or like a rock band that had its hits. I didn't want to keep playing and have people say: she still singing that same stupid song? Better to move on to a new kind of music that challenges and matures. I think I'm really getting corny here with the metaphors. Sorry.


Nofolk, Va.: Oh boy -- I'm sure going to miss your work in the Post, but look very much forward to stalking you everywhere you go.

Every Monday morning for years I've forwarded your Post page to my mom, sisters and aunt -- who all appreciated, with me, your real world stories, laughed out loud, got choked up, and just plain gobbled your writing up. We've passed around both 40 Acres books too -- oh, such books!

All the very best wishes for this new adventure -- sounds exciting and rewarding! Thanks for these past 14 years -- I've enjoyed them all! (Off to read your other pieces linked here now...)

Jeanne Marie Laskas: Thank you very much. I am getting flooded with mail like this and I have to say it means so much. I am beyond humbled. And I am really glad I'm not, like, dead. You know? A lot of people don't get to hear how much others appreciate them. This has all been a good lesson for me in TELLING people how much they mean to me. So again, thank you.


D.C.: I'm sorry to say that I am JUST NOW getting to know your column. What about those of us who are not feeling to good about missing out on the past 14 years?

"Sex and the City" type book maybe?

How far back do your archives go?

washingtonpost.com: We're limited to about a year on that archive link, or our search function gets bogged down, but the older columns should be Googleable.

Jeanne Marie Laskas: Oh, sorry about that! I do have a bunch of the columns on my website. Let me know if the links aren't working. Maybe I'll figure out how to do a book based on them someday, although in some ways the 3 memoirs I wrote are based on columns. Again, I'm kinda focussed outward these days. Really looking to write about other people for a change! But I welcome any ideas for future projects, really!


Laurel, Md.: I've never cried reading the Post magazine. But I did when I read your column about your ex.

washingtonpost.com: Old Boyfriends Rule (Post, April 27)

Jeanne Marie Laskas: Oh, man, I weeped the whole time writing that one. I got a lot of mail from people who either mourned a similar loss or found the courage to reconnect without, like, blowing up a marriage. That's a tough one. Thanks for sharing the tears! Ugh. Hard to think about even now--


Alexandria, Va.: Was Sister Mary Hyde a small Notre Dame nun? If so she was our chaperone in our year at Oxford, thru Trinity College here.

Jeanne Marie Laskas: Oh! Yes! Maybe the same one! Tell her I say hi!


Washington, D.C.: I wish you well in your future endeavors. Your column about girls and their dads brought tears to my eyes. But (isn't there always a but?) I hated your article about smokers. You missed the point entirely. If someone wants to smoke, I don't care. I firmly believe people have the right to make bad choices for themselves; I've made a few for myself. But smokers harm those around them. Sure, there's risk from second-hand smoke. But there's immediate harm from smoke to those with asthma, allergies, and respiratory conditions. If fat people were walking down the street shoving Twinkies into people's mouths, wouldn't there be outrage? That's what smokers do. And God help you if you are the least bit sensitive to smoke and have a neighbor who smokes. Smoke comes under doors, through electrical outlets, and through HVAC vents. It is hell--in your own home.

washingtonpost.com: A Girl's Best Friend (Post, June 15)

The Tobacco Tribe (Post, June 8)

Jeanne Marie Laskas: Thanks for your thoughts. Yeah, I'm not a smoker, but I was trying to get at what life must be like for them. Not to DEFEND them, just to further get at: what is it like to be an outcast?? But, okay, your point is well taken. It's kind of an indefensible position.


Herndon, Va.: If we beg, plead, and threaten to kill ourselves, will you reconsider?

Jeanne Marie Laskas: HA! I'm not going to stop writing! We can still visit in other venues! That's a promise. (I'm not going to stop writing because I don't know how to do anything else except weed...)


Arlington, Va.: I'd love to see you put all, or some of your past columns into a book, have you thought about that?

Jeanne Marie Laskas: Yes. More news on that as it happens.


Thank You: So much for your wonderful columns. My mom and I never missed them and I bought her all your books for her birthday this year. She loved them. We will both miss having you part of our Sundays.

Jeanne Marie Laskas: Very sweet! Thank you. Please tell your mom I said hi!


Hancock, Md.: Hi there! Do you ever sleep? Are you going to continue writing your column for RD? Good luck with everything. Thanks for sharing it with us for so long.

Jeanne Marie Laskas: HA! Yes, I'll continue RD. Sleep is all part of the grand plan these days...


BLOG!!: Seriously - join the blogging revolution. It's easy enough to start, and with your profile you'd attract enough viewers to have advertisers, so at worst it'd be a break even.

The beauty of blogging is a post can be any length you like - so short little snippets or updates work just as well as longer thoughtful pieces that tie loose ends together.

Please add a blog to your Web site! That way we keep up with the girls, the friends, the neighbors, the animals, the life!

Jeanne Marie Laskas: That's a cool idea. I welcome you (and everyone) to email me at laskasmail@gmail.com and maybe we can think on that one further. Thanks!


Cedar Grove, MD: Sweetness, you will be missed. Thanks, and keep in touch.

Jeanne Marie Laskas: Hoo boy, I'm starting to panic with only 3 mins left here on our chat time. Did I mention I'm the worst person at goodbyes? I wish I could answer all the questions here in this list. I'm so happy to visit with all of you. I said it in my last column and I'll say it again: over the years I came to feel years that the readers of Significant Otheres are my dearest friends. (Pathetic, I know!!) That's an amazing treasure and I'm very, very grateful. Please don't hestitae to visit me via email or my website. Bye, everyone!


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