Michael Lewis Goldberg (1959-2016)

Associate Professor Michael Lewis Goldberg passed away from complications with kidney failure on Dec. 26. He taught film, history and American studies at the UW Bothell campus since 1993. Our digital editor, a friend and former student of Goldberg, looks back at their time together.

“May your strength give us strength.
May your faith give us faith.
May your hope give us hope.
May your love bring us love.”
-Bruce Springsteen

In April of 2013, I emailed Professor Goldberg to complain about my grade. He had given me two consecutive B’s and I couldn’t understand why. So I rattled off my grievances in a 580-word rant.

Goldberg responded with 720 words of his own, using lyrics from songs he had written to explain why I was wrong (he played guitar in a faculty and staff band). “That wasn’t so hard, was it?” he wrote at the end of the email. “Now go to work.”

For the next two months, he forced me to write in new ways and pin down my voice. He showed me that every project can be polished, every argument tightened, every idea narrowed. I was a rough draft before I met him.

That summer, he told me about his health issues: diabetes, kidney failure, a donor who fell through. He did dialysis at home so he could grade papers at night and teach during the day. His wife, Elizabeth, learned how to plunge a needle into his arm five nights a week, and his kids, Asher and Jonah, sat with him and binge-watched TV shows and movies. I wrote a story about their situation for the Everett Herald, which led to freelance work and a job at the paper.

After the story ran, I met with Goldberg at a coffee shop. “You’re a writer,” he said, nodding, as if to tell me that I had finally passed his class. When a second version of the story ran in the Jewish Journal, featuring a very cheesy lead, he returned to critic mode: “A little overwrought, maybe, but it’s a nice effect.”

As a journalistic rule of survival, you don’t get close to your subjects—until, every now and then, you do. Our friendship grew with each story (I did three, plus a video). I had lunch with his family. I watched their dog when they went out of town. Last October, Goldberg and I waited hours to meet Bruce Springsteen in Capitol Hill. His legs trembled as he climbed the stairs, clutching a walker for support. But he joked with the fellow Bruce diehards in line, and he smiled wide as he wrote his name and the date of his first Springsteen show on a poster. “Love of my life,” he said of his hero’s music when the two shook hands. As we posed for a photo, Springsteen held him by the arm to help him stand. It was such a graceful gesture, and Goldberg’s grin says it all. Two legends meet.

I’m gonna miss the movies. We always talked movies. He loved Hollywood—despite its warts, and because of its wrinkles—and we shared an affection for romantic comedies. We reserved the first paragraph of each email for reviews: what we watched recently, and what it said about America. His way of analyzing pop culture was so incisive but so straightforward, like a movie theater usher who accidentally went to Yale. (One example: He referred to Gladiator as “the ultimate cake-and-eat-it-too flick.”) I’ll also miss the way he dedicated himself and his work to the struggles of marginalized people.

But what I’ll miss most is his strength. He didn’t let four decades of health problems stop him from doing anything. “Mine is bad,” he once said of his condition, “but there are worse things.” A visit to the synagogue had helped him keep things in perspective. “Ask yourself not just why you want to live, but what do you want to do that day in the world? Look beyond yourself.”

We have lost a genuine, gentle, caring and badass soul. When I look back at my career, I’ll keep a bookmark at Michael Goldberg in the first chapter. He pushed me to think different, work harder and become smarter. I will regard his lessons—those things I never wanted to hear—as words I hope to never forget. And each day as I struggle to fill a blank page, I’ll remember what he taught me: make it better.

Here’s to my professor, my film buddy and my friend—in this life and the next. I wrote 720 words for you, Boss.