Armpit Travel and Beer Poems: Torg Stories Podcast with Editor Peter Gregutt

I met Peter Gregutt when he worked with me as an editor on a piece published in Asheville’s Mountain Xpress titled “How Christopher Mello Sows Peace and Community in his West Asheville Garden.” 

In addition to listening above, you can click here for the iTunes link or just search for “Torg Stories” in the Podcast App of your iPhone.

When I learned Peter had climbed volcanoes in Guatemala, trekked the Himalayas, and spontaneously took a boat to Africa, I wanted to get him on the podcast. I was interested in his time in New York City studying English at Colombia, that he’d spent decades as an editor, and I admired his clever phrase Armpit Travel as a way to capture some of his experiences on the road.

Armpit Travel, Peter Gregutt, Travel, Mountain Xpress


As a way into our conversation, I asked Peter to read from the introduction to his collection. Here it is:


My Slime, Your Dime, High Time

Some folks “travel” via flickering images that dance across the screen. Others prefer to plant their ample posterior on a cushy seat in plane or train or air-conditioned motor coach and watch the world pass by beyond the glass.

And then there are the Armpit Travelers, those intrepid souls who strive to sniff out places a less ardent sort might choose to skip entirely in favor of a visit to the proctologist’s office.

Guided only by their own nose or gut, these indefatigable wayfarers aim to see the world — to taste the motley pleasures of the road and touch the very essence of experience — while ducking the troublesome encumbrance of paying for it. (Inevitably, of course, one does pay, though perhaps in blood and suffering in lieu of legal tender.)

To some, the words “budget travel” evoke visions of bland, greasy food; filthy, flea-infested beds; bathing in frigid water thick with icky microbes; and long, arduous bus rides that seem to go from nowhere to nowhere else. But to the true Armpit Traveler, the rewards of the road don’t stop there.

Beyond thrift, beyond grit or grift, beyond sanity, even, there lies a further storied realm whose streets might well be paved with gold if only they were paved at all. And to those with ears to hear and a nose that isn’t overly particular, that unceasing siren song may ultimately prove as irresistible as the last unprepossessing-looking person who’s still lingering in the singles bar at 2 a.m., blurry but determined, and casting inflammatory glances your way…

No travel agent orchestrates the Armpit Path; no map can aptly delineate its putative treasures. No, it’s up to the self-annointed pilgrim to discern and pursue the elusive way, guided only by the kind of enigmatic inner prompting that drives the arctic tern on its annual pole-to-pole journey and makes lemmings take their fateful leap…

But to the curious, the damned, the misfit or the annelid, a hint or a whistle or a tissue of outright lies just might prove to be the fire that lights the fuse, the fire ant whose mordant mandible incites the sluggard’s reluctant posterior to forward motion…

And to any and all who thus succumb to the blandishments and ballyhoo presented in these pages, I bid you a hearty bon voyage, albeit tempered by the slippery wisdom of an old Scottish proverb: “What may be, may not be…”

Thanks for checking out this edition of the Torg Stories podcast!

Coming soon: French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson and Grail Moviehouse owners Steve and Davida

Phenom Film Festival Edition

My sister Anne and I discuss Ed Epstein’s Hollywood Economist, Tom Cruise INC, and the Phenom Film Festival on this week’s podcast. Some good news: the documentary For the Love of Books was awarded the festival’s Audience Choice Award for a feature film.  The trophy is pictured as the image on the podcast player below. Press play to listen or check out the podcast on iTunes by typing “Prof. Torg’s Read, Write, and Teach Digital Book Club” right into the spot where you’d type a song.

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To get to the film festival, Anne came via Burbank and me White Plains, NY and we met in Dallas. We rented a car and made the 4-5 hour drive to Shreveport / Bossier City for the Phenom Film Festival. On the way, we stopped off in Jefferson, Texas to see the star of my film, Kathy Patrick. Here’s a pic of Anne and I out front of Kathy’s Beauty and the Book hair salon.

film festival, great book, audience choice

Anne and I out front of Kathy’s Beauty and the Book

Epstein’s Hollywood Economist got Anne and I talking about how often we go to the movies.  I think Anne’s an oddball! Just about the only way she sees a movie is in the theater.  How about you?


<a href=””>How often do you go to a movie theater?</a>Want to read along with us?  We’re going to get together again in about two weeks to discuss Lawrence Lessig’s Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy.  You can get a free copy online by clicking here.


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Take a Poll and Tell Me About You and Television?

I usually get to work before my colleague David Farley, and it’s become our habit that he stops at my office door and we talk about something related to writing, teaching, or family. This job we have teaching First Year Composition has carried me into digital writing, and David and I are often talking about digital texts in relation to the teaching of writing. I’m interested in the future of books, and I’m interested in how our internet habits will impact our reading, writing, and thinking. One day, David went over into his office and came back with Lawrence Lessig’s Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Wikipedia (I’m getting more obsessed with it) tells me that Lessig “is a director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard University and a professor of law at Harvard Law School.”

Lawrence Lessig’s Remix

Here’s something I wouldn’t mind hearing about from you in the comments section: Have your television watching habits changed? In this book, Lessig writes about Read Only (R.O.) and Read Write (R.W.) culture. Taking television as an example, I think it’s been R.O. By that, I mean you just sit there and watch it. You consume it. You don’t interact with it. Reading a Facebook post isn’t like that. Reading a Twitter feed isn’t like that. You get to Tweet back. You get to interact.

Television watching, from what I can see, is becoming more interactive. You can vote for your favorite American Idol. You can Tweet along with everyone else as they watch the NCAA basketball tournament. You can read what people say about President Obama and Presidential hopeful Romney on Facebook.  As I understand from Lessig, back when people went down to the town square to see entertainment, they were in a culture that tended toward R.W. They were entertained and had a chance to interact, to sing along, to talk with others, and to go home and try out the songs on their front porch.

With the rise of television and newspapers, R.W. went on the decline. People just consumed content with little or no chance to interact. Now with Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and other social platforms such as blogs, R.W. is on the rise. People read Harry Potter and go see the movies and then they write on fan fiction sites. All of these features of consuming and interacting seem significant to the craft of teaching and what it will mean to get an education.

Let’s consider for a second the teacher’s lecture.  Possibly BORING!!!! and most times heavy on the R.O. side of consumption.   I’d like to be as R.W. as I can when it comes to my teaching pedagogy. Perhaps I’m using the term wrong but for now, I know what I mean.  🙂

More on Lessig’s book and some Golden Lines in the coming posts. There’s a poll below for you and if you’d like to elaborate on your TV watching habits, I hope you’ll add them to the comments section.

Love on the Big Screen and Illustrator Keegan Laycock’s Work

Flabby from William Torgerson's Love on the Big Screen by Keegan Laycock

"Flabby" from Love on the Big Screen

Keegan Laycock was in one of my first seventh grade classes back in the mid to late nineties at North Miami High School in Indiana.  When I was teaching back then, I mostly gave assignments.  I assigned stories and students answered the questions at the end.   I went over grammar rules and students worked exercises.  We even had this book where the students faced a grammar question, worked it on their own paper, and then they turned the page to see if they got it right.  I gave the students credit for doing the work, and I remember not knowing the answers to quite a bit of the questions.  Did anyone else ever work out of a workbook like that?  Each page looked like a big chart with different shades of white and gray. Boring!!!

Cowboy from William Torgerson's Love on the Big Screen by Keegan Laycock

"Cowboy" from the novel Love on the Big Screen

As bad as a teacher as I remember being, Keegan’s father once sort of suggested that possibly one of the reasons Keegan would want to be an English teacher was related to a not awful experience in my class.  This I didn’t think possible.  I guess if I did anything right, I was at least nice to people.

It had been at least eight years or so since I’d seen Keegan when he sent me a note on Facebook, and one of the first things he wrote to me about was that he remembered a comment I’d left on one of his essays:  “Funny.”  I wrote it next to some clever phrase he’d applied to the  NHL penalty box. (can’t remember what he called it)  I think even though I didn’t know what I was doing, I somehow knew to respond to people and not texts.  I wrote little personal comments more than I was someone who would write “-5 sentence fragment.”

Moon from William Torgerson's Love on the Big Screen by Keegan Laycock

"Moon" from the novel Love on the Big Screen

Thinking back to my own high school days, I remember my sophomore or junior year that Ms. Stone of Winamac High wrote, “Not your best effort.”  It’s a comment I think was excellent for who I was and the amount of work I’d put into the assignment.  I remember that instance being one of the first times I realized that when I turned in work there was somebody on the other end of the words actually reading the sentences.   I’m not saying that my other teachers didn’t read my work; it was just the first time I’d considered that people were actually looking at the assignments. This revelation is probably akin to the shock sometimes students show when they see their teachers out at a grocery store or, heaven forbid, out to eat. If you’re a teacher reading this, do you let the students see the human side of you?

So Keegan is tackling the job of doing some illustrations related to my novel.  What I’ve especially enjoyed about this is I convinced him that it would be fun for me (and I hope some of you) to watch the drawings come to life.  As someone with a regimented writing process, it’s interesting for me to watch his drawing process.  I asked him what he thought about drawing one scene with the boys paying their respects to–among other people–Cyndi Lauper.  Rather than draw them all at once, he began by sketching them one at a time to get a feel for who they are.  He’s just doing a little work, posting what he’s got, and then doing some more drafting.

Keegan and I don’t really know what we are going to do with these, if anything, but he’s enjoying the drawing, and I’m watching the characters take on a life of their own independent of the text of Love on the Big Screen.

"The Brothers in Pursuit" from William Torgerson's Love on the Big Screen by Keegan Laycock

"Share" this post if you think your friends would enjoy the pictures. Click this picture to see more of Keegan's art work.