Power and Powerlessness (Nancy Ohlin)

These past few months, with the new presidential administration, I’ve been thinking a lot about power and powerlessness—and writing. 

Part of the reason I'm drawn to writing is because it makes me feel empowered.  Mean people and bullies?  Write a murder mystery, turn them into villains, and kill them off.  Rejected by a crush?  Write a love story and have the main character end up with an even better guy or girl.

I have been bowled over and humbled and inspired by the sheer number of written words that have been created and disseminated since the January 20 inauguration.  Even as the administration generates multiple scary headlines every day—the wall, the Muslim ban, mass deportations, unqualified cabinet appointees, alternative facts, conflicts of interest, Planned Parenthood funding cuts, LGBTQ rights under threat, constitutional crises, climate change denial, pipelines, the Affordable Care Act, etc., etc.—people are writing, reaching out, mobilizing.  Telling the truth, or trying to get to the heart of it. 

In this 1984 nightmare that has descended on our country, we are empowering ourselves and each other with words. 

True story: 

When I was six, my parents sent me from Tokyo to Ohio to live with my American grandparents for the summer, to learn English.  One day, I was playing in a park near my grandparents’ house when this blond girl came up to me and said: “My parents said I can’t play with you because you caused Pearl Harbor.”

I had no idea what Pearl Harbor was, but I knew it must be bad.  Which meant that I was bad.  Which made me feel ashamed and embarrassed and like I had no right to be in that park, in Ohio, in America.

I carried that experience inside of me for decades, even after my family immigrated to the U.S.  And then one day, out of the blue, I sat down and wrote a short story about it.  I sent it out to literary journals, and it eventually got picked up. It was my first publication.  I got a check for $25.

But more than that check, more than the hysterically happy Ohmigod-I’m-getting-published!!!!!!! victory dance I did when the editor called me, I had discovered the art of translating powerlessness into power through words.

It was life altering.

And now more than ever, it’s essential. 

So here’s to all my fellow writers out there.  Let’s keep writing.  Let’s keep telling the truth.  Let’s be powerful together.


  1. Thank you for sharing your story, Nancy. You are so right--the art of translating powerlessness into power through words-- is sometimes the only way we can make sense of what is senseless.

    1. Thank you, Jody! My motto these days is: Keep Calm and Keep Writing. :)

  2. yes! absolutely. This powerlessness is a big part of my post, which goes up on the 22nd.

  3. I would SO love to read that story. And I totally agree: writers have an incredibly big job to do right now...one of the most important jobs of all.

    1. Thank you, Holly! It's great being a part of this writers' community; we really give each other support and strength.

  4. I love this post, Nancy! And I agree with Holly, I'd love to read that story you carried inside you for all those years.


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