Thora Siemsen Plays Torch Songs on Repeat

Q(uar) & A is a series of interviews with some of our favorite storytellers and creators about how they’re living while in lockdown.

Thora Siemsen is an interviewer and writer living in New York City.

Where are you currently sheltering in place?

I’m quarantining with my friend Nan at her apartment in Brooklyn. 

What does your face mask look like? 

We use handsewn masks sent by a friend of a friend. I’ve been on very few long walks, but I’m going for those again recently. I walked over the Manhattan Bridge and up and down the Bowery the other Friday night to see what things looked like. 

Do you follow any kind of routine at this moment?

The restaurant where I’ve worked for the last few years as a hostess and a barista has been temporarily closed since March. There are a few projects that lend days a bit of structure in the meantime. I make time to be of service to others in isolation who are also trying not to drink or use right now. I’m working on waking up earlier, but I stay up very late texting with my friend in Mexico City most nights. I make coffee and juice some produce and cook when I do get up. I’m an aunt and I call home often to talk to the kids about their homework or whatever they’re up to, hear their perspectives. I watch the live traffic camera of the highway exit to my parent’s town on my computer while I work. I’m researching someone in my family history, so that’s brought some of my relatives together for an undertaking we can all be invested in from home. Rules tend to stick in my craw, but I don’t watch television or movies while the sun is up anymore. That’s too decadent.

What are some pieces of entertainment that you have consumed and loved during this time?

We watch and read the news. Living with Nan is like going to film school. Lately, we’ve been watching a lot of Hitchcock, Sirk, Visconti, and anything starring Barbara Stanwyck. Moondog is mostly the soundtrack here. Janis Joplin covered his song “All Is Loneliness.” I get obsessed with torch songs and play them on repeat. I’m currently reading a contemporary novel called Beside Myself by the playwright Sasha Marianna Salzmann. I’ve been falling for Joan Chase’s writing. My friends have sent me lovely care packages but some things—especially books—that people put each other onto are private, it’s best not to talk out of school about them. Adopting someone’s particulars isn’t necessarily the most interesting outcome. I have a surplus of time right now to decide what I think about things myself. That’s what I’m working on as a reader.

Who are the writers, storytellers, or makers who are bringing you great joy right now?

I think Sarah Nicole Prickett hung the moon, that’s how she knows the landing was a hoax. A future with movies written by Durga Chew-Bose is exciting to me. The same goes for poetry by Sam Huber. I set store by Tobi Haslett’s perspicacity. Sally Wen Mao has read me some of her beautiful new poems over the phone. My neighbor Haley Mlotek is inexhaustible, she’s involved with a mutual aid project for North Brooklyn on top of her other commitments as co-chair of the National Writers Union Freelance Solidarity Project. Hannah Black is working with her friends to raise money for the Emergency Release Fund and COVID Bail Out NYC to release people from prisons.

Any unexpectedly memorable moments of quar so far?

There’s so much to retain. The rest of our lives will be affected by these tragedies. Seclusion has loosened access to memories I didn’t know I still had. There’s that regression that comes with staying in too much, but I’m discovering new ways to deal. I have to build up my tolerance to reality over and over again. One idiosyncrasy of living here that I’ll never get over is hearing the ferry horns off the river. I’m sure a lot of us have something like that we’re newly sentimental about. 

Find Thora on Instagram @thorasiemsen and on Twitter @thorasiemsen.