My Drunken Email to Michael Lewis: A Graduate School Story

Tonight, an object lesson for students in the age of social media. (Actually, I’m surprised this story has remained ‘off blog’ for so long since my friends are ever-so-happy to hear it told.)

In 1999, I worked as a teaching assistant for Michael Lewis while a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. Lewis, who was just writing The New, New Thing and beginning work on a book called Moneyball, helped secure me a freelance writing gig with Rolling Stone and introduced me to Tom Wolfe (We spoke of San Francisco haberdasheries).

Unfortunately, we butted heads in the classroom. Worse, I didn’t find his writing on technology that inspiring in comparison with the writers I’d worked with at Wired and the teachings of Katie Hafner and Kara Swisher.

One evening after a great deal of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey I wrote him a 5,000 word email detailing those failings. I was righteous and sure in my prose.

Until the next morning. I peeled myself out of bed, a shroud of doom upon me.

“Did I send that email,” I asked my then girlfriend.

“Hell yeah you did,” she said in the kind of tone that let me know she didn’t envy my coming few hours.

I didn’t remember the particulars but I knew what I sent was bad. I recalled the words “fraud” and “hack” being used. I pulled up my Sent file. And read. And read. And ready.

When I arrived in Lewis’ office, both he and wife were there. In lieu of an apology, I simply said, “Sometimes I howl at the moon” (while his wife, MTV’s Tabitha Soren made no eye contact with me).

While he allowed me to finish the semester as his T.A., a search of the Rolling Stone archives will find no record of any of my published stories, you will find no letters of recommendations in my file, and I can impart no sage advice on writing given to me outside the classroom.

Of course, I owned my email, accepted the bridge burned, and traveled forth. Years later it made a wonderful story. My friends still take great delight in texting me images of his books from bookstore windows, or screenshots from his appearances on televisions.

I take them with the love they are offered, and the knowledge that sometimes you just have to let the demons loose and see what burns.

But damn: I didn’t know he was going to inspire all those Academy Awards.