In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Jax Connelly

by Jun 4, 2024

Legs of person running on ground strewn with leaves.

Your nonfiction piece “Not So Soft,” which appears in Volume 26, weaves running, sisterhood, eating disorders, and loss together. Your work is uniquely descriptive—“The ground is violent with leaves,” and “I was a pressure cooker of a teenager.” When and how did this piece first spring into existence? How long did it take you to write and develop the precise language you use?

I didn’t know this essay was about sisterhood or even, necessarily, eating disorders until several drafts and months in. I wouldn’t have come up with lines like “the ground is violent with leaves” or “I was a pressure cooker of a teenager” until I had submerged myself in the themes of the piece and started developing a more intentional recurring image system related to food, the body, types of harm, the things we try to bury, etc. 

This piece takes place while the speaker is on a jog—cycling through concentration on the task at hand in these loops of thoughts and memories. It’s a very clever way to be able to naturally return to themes throughout the work. What inspired you to write with this conceit, and at what point in the process did this become realized?

This piece originated in a travel writing class I took in fall 2020 (an ironic time for a travel writing class; it took place on Zoom, of course). At a time when we couldn’t travel in the traditional sense, our professor (shoutout to Patty McNair) used an exercise called “the writer’s road trip” to encourage us to rethink what “travel” could mean—i.e., a walk around the block, a trip to the grocery store. The exercise provided a structure for narrative movement based within a relatively short, ordinary trip that the narrator takes alone: 15 steps that switched off between “on the road” steps and “pull over” steps. “On the road” steps were about moving the story and journey forward through the external landscape, while “pull over” steps were about deepening the narrative through memory, reflection, and new understandings. The “conceit” is that the exterior landscape evolves as the narrator moves through it, and time passes which allows the narrator to move around their interior landscape, too.

I feel like the weather plays a character in this story. What was your process of developing weather in relation to the human characters?

Nothing has the ability to piss me off more reliably than the weather. It’s this natural (though it sometimes feels supernatural) force that we have to arrange so much of our lives around, and we have absolutely no control over it. We’re just at its mercy, period. And I don’t know if I made this connection while I was writing the essay, but now that you’re pointing out how prominently the weather features, I’m realizing that’s kind of what it’s like to be inside an eating disorder. A lot of people think eating disorders are about body image, but in my experience they’re actually about control. You start using these behaviors and you’re thinking “this is how I will achieve total control over myself and my life.” And then one day you wake up and you realize you’ve been completely swallowed.

You utilize beautiful repetition throughout your work, not only here, but in other pieces like The Spectacular Years, published in Hunger Mountain Review. What is the role that you feel repetition plays in your writing?

In “Not So Soft,” I think the overlaps in the transitions between the paragraphs are a technique for mimicking the rhythm and cyclical nature of being on a run, especially a run along the same route you’ve run a million times before.

In “The Spectacular Years,” I think the repetition is functioning more in relationship to the way memory and, especially, writing about the past can simultaneously expand our understanding of what’s happened and obscure it. I’m fascinated by the fallibility of memory, and the way that fallibility interacts with the act of writing something down, especially writing something down that we believe to be “true.” Every time I go back and try to tell a story, whether a true story or not, I’m changing it slightly, not because I was lying then or I’m lying now, but because I’m seeing it from a different vantage point, and noticing something I either didn’t notice before or wasn’t ready to acknowledge. There’s a lot of hand wringing around what constitutes the ultimate, singular, capital-T “Truth” in creative nonfiction. But memory feels true, even when it’s false. We can interrogate that on the page, but we will never be able to figure out the ultimate, singular, capital-T “Truth” of our lives. I don’t believe truth exists in such a singular form. The truth is always plural, partial, multi-sided, fragmentary. Contradictory, even.

That, I think, is why repetition interests me in general—it’s this very cool craft way to insist upon constant reimaginings and multiple truths.

For me as a fiction writer, approaching nonfiction feels very vulnerable, yet you’ve cultivated a frank, open style. What draws you to nonfiction? How do you decide what pieces of yourself you share with the audience, and which you don’t?

I think it’s all coming from the same place, really. I don’t think my process is all that different from a fiction writer’s. The more I write, the less married I am to the label of “nonfiction,” and at the same time I feel almost protective of it as a genre, because a lot of people, when they hear “creative nonfiction,” get confused—if it’s “nonfiction,” how can it be “creative”? Don’t those words cancel each other out? But nonfiction isn’t just glorified diary keeping: “This happened and then this happened and then this happened.” Whether we’re writing fiction or nonfiction or something in between, we’re all always shaping the story, and we’re always making decisions about how much of ourselves to share in that story. That requires leaving a whole lot of stuff out. It requires picking and choosing and pulling things apart and rearranging them very carefully, playing some things up, others down. Whatever happened, there are a million ways to write it. I know I’ll never get it exactly, precisely right, but I think there is something uniquely powerful about applying literary and poetic techniques to the “facts” of your own life, using them to scrutinize and question the various “truths” you’ve had to swallow, and also uncover the ones which have maybe always been lurking underneath the surface. 

(As a sidebar that’s more related to my own thoughts above than your original question, I will add that I believe this question of “truths” is also inextricably intertwined with queerness and transness, because part of what writing does, for me, is retroactive work to both stabilize and destabilize the liminalities inherent in queer and trans bodies and intimacies. Writing is an embodied act in itself, right? So we’re living in these bodies and we’re also writing in these bodies, about things that have happened while we’ve been living in these bodies. I think if we understand “true stories” as perhaps a broader, more complicated space than “This happened and then this happened and then this happened,” we might feel freer to abandon the idea of the fixed and static frame typically associated with capital-T “Truth,” and let ourselves fall deeper into the shiftingness that is necessary, not threatening, to the “integrity” of a queer and trans “I.” Especially a queer and trans “I” that creates.)

What themes do you keep returning to in your writing?

Unstable bodies, mental illness, queer and trans experiences, family trauma, the fallibility of memory, unreliable narration, “truth” in all its forms, liminal relationships, relational ruptures, constructions of language, and, importantly, my dog.

Do you have favorite books that have influenced your writing? What authors do you return to?

My Body is a Book of Rules, Elissa Washuta’s first essay collection, was hugely influential on me back before I even started writing, as was Wendy C. Ortiz’s memoir Excavation. I’ve read Problems by Jade Sharma more times than probably any other book. The work of T. Fleischmann for a masterclass on the book-length essay. The anthology Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, especially the work of Ari Banias, Oliver Bendorf, and Dawn Lundy Martin, for new ways of thinking about trans bodies in relation to bodies of text. We the Animals by Justin Torres is probably the book I recommend most often. Kiese Laymon’s memoir Heavy should be required reading for all. Jeanette Winterson, Margaret Atwood, Melissa Febos, Jenny Boully, Maggie Nelson, Alexander Chee, Michelle Tea, and Eileen Myles are a few of the authors I return to again and again. A few books I loved recently: Post-Traumatic by Chantal V. Johnson, The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison, and Manywhere by Morgan Thomas.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a book-length braided essay that investigates forgiveness and cycles of abuse, and I’m trying to balance that by taking regular breaks to work on very short flash essays that have nothing to do with those topics. And I’ve got new stuff coming out soon in Off Assignment, Slag Glass City, and The Georgia Review.


Jax ConnellyJax Connelly (they/she) is an award-winning writer whose creative nonfiction explores the intersections of queer identity, unstable bodies, and mental illness. Their essays have received honors including three Notables in the Best American Essays series, Nowhere Magazine’s Fall 2020 Travel Writing Prize, first place in the 2019 Prairie Schooner Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest, and the 2018 Pinch Literary Award for Creative Nonfiction, among others.You can read more of her work in Fourth Genre, [PANK], The Rumpus, Hunger Mountain, Ruminate, Pleiades, and online at

Pin It on Pinterest