My favorite part about the 1989 film Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is the motley crew of historical figures the boys pick up for their final presentation.

Incongruously, amongst the excellent comments and air guitar riffs, are Sigmund Freud, Beethoven, Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan, Billy the Kid, Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon, and So-crates, pronounced just so.

The screenplay was written by two stand-up comedians, based on a college routine they’d performed, but they had to at least dip into history to present our famous folk. …

Being Civil

As a writer, I have to deal with time. Time and time again, I am asked to do things on a very clear schedule. Drafts are due, copyedited manuscripts need to be turned in, covers approved. Sometimes, I think people imagine writers as these slightly drunken creative types, who write solely in cafes. One, at a reading, a woman kept staring at me as I waited for the crowd to develop. Finally, I said, “Hello.”

She laughed and said, “You aren’t drunk!”

I guess I should be glad she noticed.

My mother raised me to be on time…

Every semester — save for those during the pandemic — I ask my students to go out into the world to hear a writer who is working on the type of writing that we’ve been reading and writing in class. In my freshman composition classes, they have the option to listen to a playwright, poet, fiction writer, or screenplay writer.

As with almost all semesters and with this particular class, most everyone waited until the last minute. Can’t be helped. If you were out there reading in the Bay Area at some point the past thirty years, you undoubtedly met…

When I was little, I believed that adults did very certain things depending on their gender, not that I knew what gender meant at the time. Women — my mother — stayed at home and kept it clean. Sometimes, moms went out to work, but work outside the home was rare, sporadic, and not central to the family. Moms played bridge, made crafts, mopped the floors, and baked angel food cakes.

Men left early in the morning and came home to sit in a chair, have a drink, eat dinner, and fall asleep on the couch. Who knew what they…

People who haven’t had coffee shouldn’t make coffee.

I relearned this important lesson a couple of mornings ago upon finding my pot of coffee spilled like a slick across the counter, dripping over the edge, pooling in a coffee pool on the floor.

What had I been thinking? Oh, yeah. I hadn’t.

And yet, all of us do things we can’t do in order to figure out how to do them. This living thing is a process, and yet, most folks want to avoid the process altogether because it is so damn time consuming. We want to figure things out…

As a teacher, I’ve had some rough times figuring out when to stop or start teaching various texts. Some clearly and with force reared as offensive or racist or untenable. Suddenly, at some point, I realized I could no longer handle the omnipresent white male voice that had been passed down semester after semester like a secret key fob to academic success.

As a student, it was very clear who should be read. Don’t know your Virgil? Alas! Can’t read Chaucer in the original Middle English? Be damned. But class after class, we were given a mixture of Shakespeare, Milton…


When my first agent read my first novel manuscript, she called me up and said, “You don’t like conflict, do you?”

Excuse me, I thought. I pretty much AM conflict. I am filled with conflict. I am a 24/7 conflict kind of gal, roiling in her own issues, traumatized by life events, desperate to right wrongs and fight it out amongst my family, friends, colleagues. I’m a big pain in the ass, I wanted to say.

But I didn’t because, well, I wanted her to still be my agent.

We continued to talk, and I realized that what I…

One of my friends recently asked me how to put a poetry collection together. I told her I would think about it and get back to her.

This question is very much like the question of how to create chapters because I don’t really know the answer.

Already, I have failed in the how-to write category, but being intrepid, I have no fear of writing into an answer. So here are some thoughts.

One is to print out all the poems you think should be in a poetry collection. This you can likely do because you know which poems of…

As a reader from the get-go, an English major even before I knew I was one, I always had my idea of what William Shakespeare looked like, kind of a dark version of Ben Franklin. Sort of a literary Quaker Oats guy. This solemn, imposing figure is the man on the back of all the Shakespeare readers and the countless anthologies of all his works. The fellow on the playbills and posters at the Shakespeare festivals.

You know the painting. His hairline past receding. One ear rakishly pierced, but that’s about all the rakishness in him. Soulful, almost Spanish eyes…

When I set about writing my first novel, Her Daughter’s Eyes, I was truly unsure how to craft a chapter. What was a chapter, exactly? I was not an MFA graduate at that point, and I’d never taken a class entitled: Chapters 101. Was a chapter, I asked myself, like a short story, with a beginning, middle, and end. Or wasn’t it?

Of course, I’d read thousands of books by that point in my life. I was an English major! I taught writing! I had “seen” chapters and noted them and felt them and recognized them, but what was the…

Jessica Barksdale Inclan

Jessica Barksdale poetry collection “Grim Honey” is forthcoming in April. “The Play’s the Thing,” her time-travel Shakespearean romp, will be published in May.

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