According to, “Wolves, Humans, and the Myth,” by Jill Missal on Alaska.net, the expression, “keeping the wolf from the door,” originated in the 1933 children’s story, Three Little Pigs. We hear that the big bad wolf represents hunger. So, keeping the wolf from the door means keeping hunger and starvation at bay.
Last week, I heard a speaker say, “we need to keep the wolf at the door”. He said keep the wolf at the door, not from. It’s strange how swapping a single word gives new life to a cliché. I’ll never think of The Three Little Pigs in the same way again. In the original story, the wolf eats the first two pigs, but the third pig boils alive and eats the wolf (what a lovely thing to read to kids at bedtime, just before the lights go out!). With “at” replacing “from,” I see three little pigs brainstorming ideas to keep the wolf interested enough to hang around, if only to avoid a too-comfortable life. In this new story, nobody is eaten or boiled alive, but living happily ever after is no longer a sure thing. It could go away at any time. All it takes is for one of the little pigs to forget to lock the door, just once.
I recently saw “Still Bill,” a documentary about singer and song writer, Bill Withers. He wrote, “Lean on Me,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and “Just the Two of Us,” among other hits. In the piece, he spoke of a need to feel more desperate as an artist. I understand that more than I can explain. Maybe that’s the artist’s way of keeping the wolf at the door, not from it.
What would it mean to live an artistically desperate life? Is is healthy if my wolf lives at my door? If the wolf really does represent hunger, it would certainly give new meaning to starving artist. I have no concept of physical hunger. Raised in a restaurant owned by my family, I was never hungry or lacking for food. I’m thankful for that, but artistically, the last thing I want is a full stomach. I need to stay hungry. I want the wolf close-by. The problem is, I want him close when I want him close, and I don’t think it works that way. Otherwise, where is the risk?
I was 45 years old when I entered the MFA program at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) – Atlanta campus. I worked 20-40 hours a week as a consulting engineer while carrying a full-time class load for the two-year MFA program. I’m not bragging, I’m saying that maybe this is part of feeling desperate as an artist. Maybe this is my hunger. I graduated as SCAD – Atlanta’s 2009 Excelsus Laureate, top MFA graduate across all majors. It was a tremendous honor. So keeping the wolf at the door pays off right? Maybe. Maybe that is how I do my best work. Or it could just be procrastination and good luck.
I rarely see wolf tracks near the house these days, and I miss the desperation and hunger. Lately I think I hear howls in the distance, but it could be nothing more than echoes from past productivity. Maybe it’s time to leave the door unlocked, or even cracked a little, just to see what happens.
Here wolfie wolfie…