It's 1:00 pm my time and 4:00 pm her time, and she is standing at her desk in a room positively brimming with books. Her face is glowing with a friendly smile, and her lips are painted an alluring, almost-black dark purple, which she tells me later is a shade called By Starlight. She is wearing a black tank top, exposing two large shoulder tattoos and an oval-shaped moonstone necklace that sits high on her chest. Her dark brown hair is short, angled, and shaved on one side.
We talk for 30 minutes before starting the interview. The conversation is effortless, easy, sweet. Why haven't we done this before?
'Hometown' Means Something Very Different
When I ask her to describe her hometown she says, "That's a hard one, because I have lived in so many places and we moved around a lot as a kid, so I don't really have a hometown."
Sezin was born in 1979 in Colombo, Sri Lanka to a half-Tamil/half-Sinhalese father and a Wisconsin-born mother who was posted in Sri Lanka with the UN. Sezin was born right around the time the civil war started, but her family left before most of the violence began. Since they had a Tamil last name, government officials showed up at their door one day looking for Sezin's father.
"My white American mum greeted the mob at the gate and told them she was with the UN and an American, so they took off," she tells me in a follow-up email.
After Sri Lanka, the family moved to Lusaka, Zambia, where both of Sezin's younger sisters were born. She remembers hardship in Zambia due largely to the transition between colonial and post-colonial governments. "There was like no food," she says, "and we had to drive to Malawi to go and get food, and I have this memory of going into the shop and there was nothing on the shelves except cornmeal."
That said, as a UN family they had access to much more than the locals did. When it comes to having more than others, Sezin has always had a feeling of guilt about that.
After Zambia, the family moved to Bangkok, Thailand--the first metropolitan city Sezin had ever lived in, and then on to Islamabad, Pakistan, where she hit puberty and where most people thought she was Pakistani. She had to make sure her body was covered whenever she was out in public.
If she had to pick a hometown it would probably be New Delhi, India, where the family moved when Sezin was around 12 or 13. "I loved it there, it's so vibrant and there's such chaos," she says. "It's like this weird organized chaos that's got these wonderful and awful smells, and there's animals walking down the road, just normal, there's an elephant, there's a buffalo, there's some peacocks just hanging out."
Sezin misses New Delhi's history, with all its old palaces and ruins, just as much as she misses its food. "There was just such a mixing of the old and the new that was going on, all kind of cohabiting together."
She loved her school in New Delhi, where there were no cliques and "everyone hung out with everyone." Sezin describes it as a very different chapter in her life, where she did a lot of acting and appeared in "so many plays."
"Everyone was from all over the place," she explains, "so you cast a play and you have daughters who are--like someone is Black, someone is Asian, someone is blonde--but that was perfectly acceptable because a lot of us were in families that were multiracial, and when I came to theatre in other places that was gone."
After high school, Sezin attended college in California, and lived in California for a total of seven years. This was quite a bit longer than she would have preferred. She then lived in various parts of Europe, including the Czech Republic and Germany with her husband, Steven, before the two settled in Florida about five years ago. They currently reside in Lighthouse Point.
The Joy: Gratitude Through it All
Life has not been altogether easy for Sezin, given her fractured family life, her experience of having a friend shot right in front of her in LA, and with, as she describes, "one of these weird faces that people tend to see whatever their prejudice is when they look at me." She's experienced frequent displays of racism while living in Florida, where many assume that she is an Arab. Even while walking around with her Caucasian husband, she has experienced the condemnation of those who frown on interracial unions.
Despite her struggles, Sezin is clear that she tries to be grateful for everything. "Even on the worst days, there's always something to be grateful for."
Being grateful almost goes against her personality, she says, but she has gotten in the habit of doing it anyway--reminding herself of all the things and experiences she is thankful for.
Some of the little things in life that she is thankful for include living in a place where the sun shines all year round, living close to Hogwarts, having a swimming pool just steps away from the porch, sipping a healthy green smoothie every day, having alone time, and taking her thyroid medicine, which has improved her health and increased her mental clarity.
Several times throughout our interview she mentions books and her deep love for them. Sometimes, when she is feeling down, she will sit in her office, surrounded by her books. The smell of the books is almost a type of aromatherapy, she explains, and has an immediate comforting effect.
Eclectic Writer Extraordinaire
Sezin is a widely-published writer, with two novels under her belt and others on the way. She has written hundreds of personal essays, journalistic articles, short stories, and flash fiction pieces. It's very likely that you have read her work online. She has several articles featured in The Huffington Post and is a contributing writer for Wear Your Voice.
She is a master storyteller and wants to try her hand at writing screenplays.
I am almost finished reading her 2015 novel, entitled Crime Rave, and am impressed by her truly exceptional imagination. Sezin has an uncanny ability to tell a story that almost literally embodies--through her characters' bodies and varied personas--the rage and pain felt by women all around the world due to the violence and machinations of men.
The Sorrow: Death of Heroes
With an ironic laugh, she says that her theme for 2016 has been heartbreak. "Oh my god, Bowie went right at the beginning and that really just broke something in me--I didn't think was possible to break that."
And then Prince passed away, and that was another shattering of the broken bits. "I kept thinking that my heart can't break anymore. ... I just don't know who else can die." Everything about the election has been disappointing, too, and has "showed a lot of people's true colours." She hasn't liked what she's seen in that regard.
For her own "heart and sanity," she has had to sever some bonds that she never thought would need breaking. "This is a really big year where I took a hard look at who is in my life and why are they there, and how do they make me feel," she explains. "And if there were negative things associated with it I kind of started a little bit like housecleaning."
All in all, she "wanted it to be badass 2016, but it was more like sadass."
Sezin, Word for Word
Q: If you had one message for the world, what would it be?
A: "Critical thinking skills, people! Please, please, critical thinking skills. You cannot just take things at face value anymore. The internet is wonderful, but just because you found an article ... and just because it's a fancy website, that does not make it true. ... And I know truth is subjective ... but when it comes to certain scientific facts and when there's political spin involved, people really need to start looking outside of their go-to sources and seeing what other stuff is there, and being open to it. Because I also feel like no one is open to a discussion anymore, because everyone thinks they have all the evidence they think they need in order to make a decision, even though that information might not even be true. But they believe it's true, and then you can't shake them from that belief. So I think people really need to let go of a lot of these beliefs, and just start to be a little bit more open to what other people may experience, what other people may think and see, and how to go through this world in a little bit more of a humane and compassionate way, because I just feel that that's gone out the window, especially during this [Trump versus Clinton] election."
Q: What is your favourite book?
A: "I love Stephen King and my favourite Stephen King book is called Lisey's Story. It's not one of his better-known ones, but that's my favourite of his. I love Louise Erdrich and she's one of my favourite writers. My favourite of hers is The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, which is a wonderful, wonderful book about a woman who disguises herself as a priest on an Indian reservation, and it's just fantastic. And oh my god, the writing is so beautiful. More recently I read a book by a Sri Lankan-American author called Island of a Thousand Mirrors, and that book just rocked my world. ... It helped me connect with my own Sri Lankan heritage."
Q: Tell me about your shoulder tattoos.
A: "Steve and I both got matching stars when we first got married, his on his left calf and mine on my left shoulder. I got the matching one on my right shoulder in Prague. And then a few years later I added the fairy wings to both stars. The left wing is plain since female butterflies aren't brightly coloured in nature, and my right wing is full colour for the males."
Q: What do you perceive to be your top deadly sin or vice?
A: "My top deadly sin would definitely be Wrath. Anger is something I struggle with constantly, and finding healthy outlets for it has always been a challenge. These days I really channel my rage into my writing, and most especially my novels and short fiction, but I can see it seeping into my non-fiction stuff, too, in a lot of ways. Unless someone sincerely apologizes after hurting me, I can hold one epic grudge. I'm not quick to forgive, and I'm never one to forget."
Q: What do you perceive to be your top heavenly virtue?
A: "My top heavenly virtue is a tough one! I suppose if I had to choose it would be Charity. I'm overly generous (so my husband tells me) with my time and resources even when it negatively impacts me, if in the end I can help someone who tells me they need it. I'm always helping people find jobs, get connected to others in my network for mutual benefit, give advice when it's solicited, and even in my writing I do my best to promote the projects people in my network are creating, often without being asked (and many times in the past without even getting paid for my work). I'm an epic gift-giver and creator of care packages. And no matter how many times people take advantage of me for whatever generosity I've consistently given, it's the one thing I can't stop doing, although not with those people who have previously taken advantage."
Q: Where do you see yourself in five years, personally and professionally?
A: "I'll still be living in Lighthouse Point. Unless some really great job offer came up, for either myself or for my husband, I kind of think that we would be staying around in this area. We're close to his family and we're close to Hogwarts. (laughs)"
Career-wise: "Hopefully maybe I'd have at least one more book out, if not two, since I'm kind of focusing more on it. I'd love to win some kind of writing prize in whatever form that would be."
Q: What do you like most about Lighthouse Point?
A: "I like that it's really safe. It's very safe and it's very quiet, and it's unique in that our apartment is walking distance to a little shopping centre. ... It's very cozy and really the safety is a big part. There's no gun violence in this town."
Q: What do you like least about Lighthouse Point?
A: "How long do you have? (laughs) I was really hard on it when we first moved here. There's definitely many more positive things than negative, but I don't really like a lot of the people around here. A lot of Trump signs on the sides. I find that to be such an offense against me as a human being that it makes my stomach churn."
Q: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A: Forensic detective or "Monster Professor."
"I think monsters are so fascinating culturally and socially, and even physically. There's so much about monsters that's relevant to society and culture, and I would've loved for that to have been my life's work. And in a way it kind of is because of my books, but not really in an official way. ... The official name for someone who studies monsters is a teratologist (terata is the Greek word for monster), and historically it was a totally racist profession with practitioners doing things like measuring skulls to indicate intelligence and dissecting so-called freaks you'd find in sideshows. Horrible people. If I'd become a professor of monsters, a sociological and anthropological teratologist so to speak, it would have been a rather beautiful upsetting of historical teratology seeing as a woman of colour would approach the study from an intersectional, feminist, and transnational perspective."
Random Sezin Facts
She really, really, REALLY loves books. Two of her other favourite books are The Neverending Story by Michael Ende and Geek Love by Katherine Dunn.
When she's not writing or reading, her hobbies include creating collages on canvas, playing Words with Friends, collecting books, swimming, and taking pictures. She's excited to get the new iPhone to capture the great nightscapes in Florida.
Sezin's favourite movies include the French-Canadian philosophical horror film called Martyrs, which she calls "very disturbing and beautiful," Labyrinth, and Mermaids--"the one with Cher." She also loves Fight Club, though it is problematic from a feminist perspective. Some of her favourite TV shows include Dexter and Sense8, though she just started watching Sense8 and hopes it continues to be so good. Her guilty pleasures include Sex and the City and Gilmore Girls.
The Official Site of Sezin Koehler
(image 1: Sezin channeling Frida Kahlo, self-portrait; image 2: Sezin as Elphaba by Steven Koehler)