Creativity is Essential

…Me, Elizabeth Gilbert, and some decorator crabs

Yi Shun Lai
Human Parts
Published in
3 min readJul 16, 2021


(Full alt text for this graphic essay is down below the illustrations.)

handwritten script with three watercolors of cartoon crabs. In the first, a crab sits on a sandy bottom with a sprig of something green in his claw. He is surrounded by a rock, a brittle star, a sponge, and some other green. The second crab sees a rock and some greens. The third has decorated himself with a rock, a sea anemone, and some green sprigs. Full text below images.

Alt text:

[image 1] I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. In it, she writes about her friend Eileen, who gets a tattoo whenever she feels like it. “My body is temporary,” Eileen says. “I decided I would decorate myself as playfully as I can, while I still have time.”

I love this idea. It made me think of one of my favorite animals, the decorator crab.

Why are they called decorator crabs? Well…

Decorator crabs take a look at their surroundings to see what’s around. Then…


With whatever’s around! Rocks! Plants! Sandy bits! Even other animals! Sea anemones! starfish!

[image 2] Script: Our crabs are just like Eileen, right? Except—Eileen is decorating for the sake of decorating, which is the whole point of Gilbert’s book. Gilbert is of the opinion that “human artistic expression is blessedly, refreshingly inessential.”

I disagree. (It’s okay. We can differ.) But Big Magic was published in 2015; how many of us have depended on creative works and creativity for our happiness and sanity these last 17 months?

SO MANY OF US! (Watercolor of a “crowd” of people in different colors.)

[image 3] Gilbert wants us to create for creativity’s sake. But our crabs decorate — create — for a few reasons!

  1. It makes them safe! The decor is camouflage! (Watercolor of crab hiding among some weeds with some weeds on its head.)

2. Some crabs eat the plants on their shells! It’s like a traveling snack fridge! (Watercolor of a crab with a literal refrigerator on its head. Fridge is teal and stocked with sprigs of green things.)



Yi Shun Lai
Human Parts

Author: A SUFFRAGISTS’S GUIDE TO THE ANTARCTIC (2024), Pin Ups (2020). Columnist, The Writer.; @gooddirt. Psst: Say “yeeshun.” You can do it!