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: