Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Mike Hastings died today--Miss you already, buddy

Famous people are often annoying. Then they die, which is sad, but I get REALLY annoyed, and feel guilty for it, reading all the half-truth obits painting them as saintly perfection.

Mike Hastings was highly unsaintly and imperfect. He could be harsh, volcanic and unforgiving, and he picked way more fights than he needed. And a few other things. I worried about him. So no bullshit that he was a sweetheart to everyone. But God he was nice to me. And funny and endearing and an inspiration. I miss him like crazy already. So this is not meant as the complete Mike Hastings bio, just what he meant to one guy in this world.

I knew Mike kind of a short time, four years, but what an impact. I met him over the phone, when he interviewed me about my book--the only close friend I think I ever made that way. We had a great conversation, for about an hour, during which I mentioned I was thinking about going to Afghanistan to research my next book. Then he spent another two hours helping me sort that out. Basic questions like how and where I get body armor, and embarrassing ones like, "What are the chances I'll die?" I skitted around that last one awhile, because I felt like such a weanie and feared the answer would be: If you have to ask, you're not cut out for it.

I did ask, though, because he put me so at ease. From the start. Right up to the last time I saw him, a week and a half ago. He was so damn sincere about everything. So candid. He was riddled with fears, too. But so bold about charging ahead anyway.

Then I moved to New York, we met for drinks when he came through town, and it was friendship at first sight--with both him and Elise, who quickly became two of my favorite people, who married each other.

I could go weeks or months without seeing him, and we'd pick up instantly, like we had been cracking jokes five minutes ago. I could tell Mike anything, so of course I did. Why? I was about to say, "no judgments," which will make a few heads explode, of his adversaries in the unlikely event they are still reading, because man, could Mike eviscerate people who upset him. Brilliantly. He was an artful writer, and you did not want to get on the wrong side of his pen. And yet, for me, I tell you candidly, I confessed to Mike a slew of shortcomings I would never divulge to my own mom. (Especially my mom--haha--but not to most of my other friends either.)

I think, because he knew I was trying. And trying to figure it out. No bullshit from me either. I never doubted a word that came out of his mouth. I had to tell him he was an idiot, sometimes, or a buffoon, but I always got the truth. His best attempt at figuring out what that was.

That's the main thing Mike was after in this world, I think: truth, sincerity, an honest attempt--at whatever it was you were trying to do.

He forgave some of my grave failings, too, never called me on an obvious one. I'm so Godddamned slow. I have a feeling it drove him nuts, how long I took, because he just cranked out the copy, gorgeous, vivid stuff that had me envious, while I plodded along for years at a time on one thing. He never made me feel shitty about that. He kept on encouraging me, and helping me with edits and guidance and introductions. We me, he was incredibly generous.

Everyone has been lauding his reporting, but man he could write, and that's where he really helped me. So many times, so many ways. The story I've been working on now, he's been encouraging me for three years. So many times, my confidence sagged. I believed in it because he did. (Elise, too. What a pair.)

Here's where I get to pick a little fight with him. Mike wrote this really vivid, amusing and totally spot-on list of ten bits of advice to young journalists on Reddit. You'll get a sense right away of his candor and intensity--everything that made him so special--so I have to laugh at his derisive stab in #2 at reporters focused on their writing, or God help them, "prose." That's what makes the list so God damn special, you idiot: your amazing facility to convey so much insight with so much personality, in so few words. That's called great writing, goofball. Vivid prose.

Two things I didn't tell Mike:

1. He was kind of a hero to me. He could tell, I think, though. God, I hope so. He was so bold, so fearless. I'm not, anymore, nothing like I used to be. That may be a good thing, but Mike was refreshing at shaking me up. Be bold. Be like Mike. Not all the time. I didn't want to be him. But he woke me up, at least once a month, to a bolder version of me I could be.

2. He reminded, me, scarily, of a younger version of me. He was nearly 20 years younger than me, and God, I was angry and reckless in my 20s. Much worse than him, and unchanelled. I took solace in Graham Parker, Elvis Costello and The Clash, but I lamented later that I'd never have my Elvis Costello period artistically, because I was too damn angry and unfocused to get anything meaningful down. Those guys all did. Mike, too. I admired that. I wondered, often, what Mike would look like when he was 50. Unlikely that he would grow older into a version anything like me. I was OK with that. I like what I've grown into, and so much happier that I've gotten here, but I have a feeling Mike's path would be very different. I was really excited to see what it would be.

That's what makes me so damn sad today, apart from all the obvious stuff, like all the laughs we'll miss out on and what's going to happen to Elise. All that stuff we're never going to read, or see. I have a lot of writer friends, and I lean on them all for different things, but nobody gave me that crazy bold path Mike was blazing, daring me to be just as bold.

I was crying about that this afternoon--that beacon that he was for me, of what I could and sometimes should be, that's gone now, and I feel unsteady already without my kindred spirit blazing that tougher path alongside me. The path is not gone though, is it? Mike left us, but all that fearless bushwhacking he did, that lives on. He will fade in my mind over the years, I'm afraid, and I'll never be able to call him up or email again for encouragement, but what he did for me, for all of us writers and journalists, that's never going away.

And the joy he brought me. That's living on, too. And the wonderful people he brought into my life. One in particular. Elise, wow. I never would have met her without you.

Thanks, Mike. I miss you already, buddy. I said that already. I'm going to say it over and over again.



  1. I'm sorry you lost such a dear and special friend, Dave. Clearly a good man gone far too soon. I have a feeling he was just as lucky to have you in his life as you were having him in yours.

  2. best obit, dave, find within yourself that fire that burns, #be like mike.

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  3. A beautiful tribute to a very special friendship and person. Hugs to you, Dave, in your grief.

  4. This is a beautiful tribute. It left me crying, too. God bless you.

  5. Sounds like you were a true friend to him, too: someone who loved him, not in spite of who he was, but because of it.

  6. Thanks for all those kind comments. I finally got to sleep around 4am, woke 3 hours later worrying about all sorts of things and feeling terrible that I'd made this too much about me. (And of course, that I left important things out.)

    I was going to get my ass in here and edit it, but . . . decided to let it be.

    Also, my first thought when I woke up, realized what day it was, was, "He's still dead." That's not changing. Still haven't completely wrapped my head around it.

  7. This is a beautiful tribute to a man who let you in, when so many others try to keep the doors closed. I'm so sorry for your loss, and yet without having known him you would be less the person you are.

  8. I'm so sorry for your loss, Dave. No matter what "caused" this event to happen, it was senseless, stupid, violent, and horrifying. Did I say horrifying?

    As an author, I know what it's like have someone who touches you right there, right in your author spot, and once they have, you're never the same. I hope you can bake his thumbprint into the sculpey of your author spot so he can live forever. That's my wish for you.

    My thoughts are with you that you, and he, may find peace.

  9. Quite a moving tribute to Michael. Per your piece, and as an avid reader, I did not agree with Michael 100%, but immensely enjoyed his writings, especially The Operators, which I read abt 6 mos ago. I am a retired female AF Colonel, but despised the language utilized by StanMc when referring to the Pres and VIce Pres. What an irreparable loss to the worlds of journalism and political discourse.

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