Johnn Mark
The Bright Side

The Bright Side

Welcome to The Bright Side. What you’ll find here is what most people write in a personal diary: real stories, comments on some important events in my past, memories, other literary content that wouldn’t make it into a serious project but is too good to go to waste… you get it.

[new stuff goes to the bottom of the page]

The Eyes and the Magic of the ‘What would have been’

July 20th, 2018

You’ve read the title, it’s too late to be mysterious, so I’ll go straight to the point. Somewhere on the feral railways of the West Midlands, a man saw a girl sitting some seats away on the train, exchanged some glances, some smiles, but never saw her again. When I was a little boy, television commercials and movies made me believe that this was a frequent and beautiful, romantic story… with a happy end. And if you are anticipating that I am going to contradict them entirely, you are both wrong and right. Love-at-first-sight is neither what a fairy-tale will make us expect it to be, nor is it actually Love… obviously.

But, let me propose to you this essay about “the magic of the ‘What would have been”.
The man is young and is wearing his hair long and silky. He is with his parents, who are visiting England for the first time. He is an artist and can never relate to practicality and norm, for which reason he feels he’s an accident in the world. He will try his best to keep his head up and fake-smile to make his family enjoy the trip. He likes Birmingham, but he is not in the state of mind to act on it. All he can think about is every penny he is spending without producing anything because he is dreaming of being that one in a hundred million. That is, precisely, a hundred million… he has calculated.

So, after a day of odd rainfalls and much walking, the man is impatient to take the train back home, to drink cider and cuddle with his blankets in the living room. They are early in the station, on a Friday evening. The platform is cold, so they decide to take the escalator back to the lobby and wait for the train there.

That’s where he sees the girl. She is going down the escalator in the opposite direction and is smiling at nothing as if she were just happy to be alive. She’s wearing a colourful blouse and her wavy dark hair is tied at the back with a white clipper. But that’s all he can see. He ignores her. His mother is upstairs already, but his dad comments: “What a smile, that girl. She looked a little Romanian.” He ignores him. Mumbles: “Hm? I wasn’t looking” and makes a joke.

The train finally arrives.

The silky-haired dreamer had been thinking about what it would have been to ask that girl why she was smiling, but eventually convinced himself to forget about her.
When he gets on the train, he looks around against his own reason. At a distance, in the same carriage, he sees what seems to be the top of that girl’s head, from behind. The same white clipper. His breath stops.

She is facing away and only he knows that they’re on the same train.
Now, what if she smiled earlier because she saw him?

His mother is saying something about finding seats, but he can’t, for the world, focus. She gets angry and deems him disrespectful. He tries his best and mumbles something, but his brain is drugged.

The seat next to the wavy-haired girl was the only empty one in the carriage.

“I said, rambling boy, why don’t you settle down…” Somebody was listening to Joan Baez silently, somewhere on the other side. On any other occasion, he would have been in heaven.
His mother was schooling him more angrily, but it was like she was speaking German. He couldn’t focus. He panicked and looked around for one last time. Four table seats were empty at the other end of the coach and he just plunged towards them. As he walked, he caught a glimpse of the girl and thought he saw her wearing a black long skirt – but he wasn’t sure. She was sitting bare-footed with her feet on the seat. The image remained stuck to his mind. He moved towards the empty seats and took the one facing the girl.
The journey was going to take twenty-five minutes. For the first five of them, he tried to see the girl through the opening between the rows of seats in front of him. He noticed that his father had been talking to him for a while, but he couldn’t react to the discovery. He couldn’t see her well, but she was listening to music on some large headphones. “How long since I’ve gazed into dark eyes that melted my soul down…” he just remembered and started to swing left-and-right, imagining the song and looking out on the window.

Wow, what if she was listening to Joan Baez?

When he looked up, he noticed that he could see her reflection in the glass luggage shelves above their heads.
It is possible that that was when their futures said goodbye forever. You see, the illusion of happiness will sometimes kill our sense of distance or time. It will paint a wall and write eternity on it. “A booth in the Midwest. Ten years ago, I bought you some cufflinks. You brought me something…” He knew it, but he was trapped like in a well, trying to swim up. You never think about how bad losing a hand would be. In general. You’re busy swimming.

He started looking at her. Her eyes were dark like he hoped. They looked even darker in the reflection, and her hair looked fuller and wavier. It looked like she was talking to somebody, but the seat next to her was still empty.

His father was still talking to him.

She was eating from a plastic box. Her cheeks barely moved when she chewed. She was beautiful… but leave this aside. The long skirt and the bare feet! So many feelings and dreams. Can he imagine? Can one imagine? Marring a girl that flew over Woodstock like the Wandering Jew.

He began rubbing his teeth against each other and clenched his knees with both his palms.
You, now, are reading it, but he was there.

He started imagining the future with her… much like in commercials. He was not just too shy to talk to her. The seat next to her was now taken by a lady, but that didn’t matter. He just forgot about reality and couldn’t remember that he in fact never knew her name.
She noticed him staring at her with his cheek buried in his right palm. Their gazes met in the reflection for a moment, but he turned his head towards the window immediately. He looked again and saw her smiling.

Did she bite her lower lip?

Their eyes met again accidentally in the glass shelf. Uhm, they formed a… what was that thing Newton used to split beams of light?
Of course, he tried to look at her less. He smiled looking away because he remembered his smile had been complimented once. Coventry came. One station left.
“And then the leaves became a thousand tears, and I was on my knees in a crazy house of mirrors…” I never understood that song. He didn’t think of it, this is just something I remembered now. What was the first line? “I was following a girl beside a stream”? Ah, I had a dream, I was following a bare-foot girl beside a stream… or dream. Just that I always imagined the girl in that song as wearing a black long skirt and a colourful blouse.

It was time to get off. As the train was stopping, he noticed she was trying to put on her shoes… probably. Yes, if she were to leave at the same station…! But she didn’t. He stepped on the platform as nothing had happened, put his hands into his pockets, and waited for the train to leave, to bring the girl flying past him once again. He looked at her through the window and she smiled at him.
“I built him a bower into my breast…” and the train just left.

Now, why is the silky-haired idiot still happy? About an illusion. I don’t remember any reference, I read the book much too long ago, but it was probably the belief in fate. I mean, this one was an actual idiot, that one was just an ill man. But isn’t it striking? She was like a ghost.

“Some folks see some things not everybody can see…” Even she believes in it. His father as well. Why wouldn’t he himself believe?
What is left to do, in such a case, is to go home and convince yourself that the whole impression was caused by your imagination. At first, for a few days, it might feel impossible, but after a while, it will work.

The man went home that day and spent the next twenty-four hours thinking about what it would have been to leave that girl his phone number on a piece of paper, on the empty seat next to her, as he was walking towards the exit. Some courage that! He spent some time blaming himself, but he also allowed some moments to imagine that she would actually find him, and they would climb hills together and play the guitar and sing. He really pretended that was true, and the happiness he felt made up for the final disappointment.

What I mean is, for a few days, one of the saddest people around only thought about how it would have been to be happy. And all it took was disappointment and failure.


Open Letters to the Girls I Loved

series started June 5th, 2021

I’m writing this to remember them. I almost never write for myself… I mean, just as a form of therapy. I think, as a form of therapy. I almost never write because I find writing to be too stimulating. That’s why I write to remember them because once I put my fingers on the keyboard, they will come alive and I will be able to see them again. They are many. Before I married my favorite of them, I fell in love with many girls, almost everywhere I went. There’s not one I don’t remember dearly, although there may be a few I don’t remember at all. I will write each one of them a short letter… names changed, of course. Maybe I had something I never had the chance to tell them, maybe I just want to see how they are.

Episode 1

Hmm. What should I call the first one?

Dear Sam,

We were both sort of in love, weren’t we? I know it was preschool, so I’d say age five or six. I think school changed everything, so it must have all taken place before I started first grade. Of course, you are… one year younger than I, am I right? So I suppose you were five and I was six.

I don’t think there’s a “we first met” moment. We kind of grew up around each other ever since you were born. Yeah. The whole thing started in a very weird way, but I don’t think you knew it at all.
The way I remember it, you were first in love with my brother. And I struck a deal with him one night and he traded you. I don’t remember the terms of the transaction, I remember the context precisely. Come to think of it, if we weren’t in kindergarten, this would actually sound creepy.

Anyway, my brother was like four. Maybe five. And I liked you, so I felt like I was the big brother and you were supposed to check with me before you liked him. My mom was making the bed and we were helping around. And that is precisely when I tried to convince him. I think I started arguing that he was too young for love, that he was supposed to wait until senior kindergarten to get a girlfriend. He probably agreed. But he’s ALWAYS been good at negotiating, so I had to… make an offer. It turned out well for us, you have to admit it. After he accepted the trade, when I next met you I proceeded to explain to you that you were supposed to be my girlfriend and… I might be paraphrasing, but you said something like “yeah, sign me up”.

Ah… can’t give too many public details cause there are a thousand members of our combined families who can identify you, but… we did hang out quite a bit. When we played “pretend”, we were always the prince and princess (or a rock ’n roll couple). We did attend a wedding as a couple, I’m sure you remember. That’s pretty cool to think about. Actually, I don’t remember any party, my bedtime must have been 8 pm, but hey, still, who else held hands with their boyfriend at age five at a wedding?

We loved hugging most of all. Do you remember? I do. We told each other “I will most certainly marry you when we grow up” and hugged a lot. We’d just tell each other: “I don’t know why I love hugging so much, but I do”. I was probably in college when I first looked up why people love hugging so much – scientifically speaking.

Anyway, I know it sounds kinda cheesy, ‘cause of how young we were, but I think you were the right foot to start off in life for me in terms of confidence and emotional development. I mean it. It really never went as well for me ever since – until only a couple of years ago when I got married.

I hope you are all well. You are one of the most special memories I have.


Episode 2

Dear Gala,

Hmm. First grade? You never did like me, did you? That’s ok. I wouldn’t have liked me, either. Seven-year-old seduction techniques involve pretty weird stuff as I recall, and I think I was more picking on you than flirting with you. I mean, I was trying to flirt, but how was I supposed to know pulling on your hair braids hurt? I had short hair… Yeah, ok, I should have known. Somehow, we both knew I liked you and I’m glad we’ve been adults about it for 17 years. Come to think of it, I did end up hating you for a while when I got tired of you rejecting me, towards the end of the year, but the summer vacation did help me forget, so by August I was back in love.

Ok, let me tell you a story: that summer, before second grade, in August, I went on a camp with my mom and a bunch of her students, across the country. They were 8th graders, all the way to 12th graders, so like 14 to 18. And because they were waaay bigger kids, I thought they must be very wise and so I asked them for dating advice. Well, I didn’t ask the naughty kids who were… smoking!!… I asked some nice girls my mom recommended to me, who always did their homework and never skipped classes.

Just gonna pause here for a second. Can you imagine that those girls are in their mid-30s now?? Man, I need my mommy…

Anyway, we’re old as hell. So, here’s the thing. There’s no way you remember this, but on the second or third day of school in second grade, you found a piece of chocolate inside your desk. It was a Laura milk and cocoa-butter recipe. Plain and simple. My mom chose it – supposedly so I don’t scare you with something too sophisticated. Nothing I could do there, parents tend to be the ones with the money when you’re eight years old. I thought it was a little too cheap to impress you… but you did notice it and you quite shockingly knew it was from me. Pff. So you confronted me about it after school. I panicked and told you that my mom wanted to give you one in church the other day and she forgot to after the service. As I recall, you believed me. And probably went on to live your life thinking that’s what happened. Well. Here it is. I lied. This is what actually happened.

Oh, and I went ahead and used more of their advice from then on. Every single one resulting in failure. They said I should consider bringing your jacket from the coat rack at the end of the program. Cause you know how when we were little we used coat racks, like people, and when we got to high school we’d just put our coats on the back of the chairs like some sort of skin-shedding animals? Anyway, I did bring your jacket once. When the bell rang, I watched you very carefully to see that you’re not leaving your desk, crept to the back of the class, snatched the jacket, and came to you. I mumbled, “I got your jacket” in a monotone before placing it on the desk and walking away… underwhelmed by the experience. It was the wrong jacket, though. So you were stuck with having to take the jacket back and get yours. You were probably quite underwhelmed yourself. Oops…

Ahm, what else? It all must have cooled down by the beginning of the second semester of the second grade. I think I did have a dark period when I was in trouble at school, during that time. Actually, the last time I ever was in trouble at school until 10th grade, as far as I can remember. I was failing English, by the way, if you ever need a motivational anecdote, I… I’m pretty good at English now… And, I think my not being great at school had something to do with your lack of interest. Whichever way you want to take this.

Towards the end of that school year, I had a talk with my mom and she told me that the teacher told her I was ranked mid-way in the class in terms of school performance. And I said: “OK, that’s good, right? Mid-way, average, pretty normal… give me five!” No. She was pretty pissed. But the fascinating thing is this: it had never occurred to me (and they somehow forgot to tell me) that they would expect me to be top of the class. And when they did tell me, it took pretty much nothing to get there. Next year I made the top three. It didn’t change anything in my behavior or my habits. There was no extra pressure. I just reached my hand and did it. You still didn’t like me, though :))


Episode 3

Dear Blondie,

I think you were the kind of girl who must have turned out really cool. You had long blond hair, blue eyes, and a tan. You looked like a hippie. You were in love with my best friend… I don’t know why, but that didn’t actually frustrate me too much. You moved away at some point… I have no idea when… and I haven’t seen you since. Don’t know why… but I have absolutely no idea what happened to you. You’re nowhere online. There’s nothing else I can tell you other than… I haven’t forgotten you and I hope you are well.


Episode 4

Dear Kate,

I was in love with you on and off for six years. Mostly on.I don’t know exactly what possessed me to have so much determination. You were smart. You pretty much came across as the smartest in the class, although everybody always defined that by the extent of a kid’s achievement in science, never in art. You were pretty smart, nevertheless. I wasn’t as much. That’s probably why we never actually dated. I think you rejecting me was kind of a staple in the gossip groups in our class for many years. 4th grade to 8th. Quite a lot.

I’ll tell a funny story that kind of sums up our relationship. Do you remember when we were on the basketball court in the schoolyard, during a break and you were laughing at me for having gotten a bad score on a Math test and I told you I’d only get maximum scores from then on to the end of the year? 6th grade I think… And we bet on it. I win, I take you on a date. You win, I fuck off (basically). Yeah. I bet you don’t remember that. And I won the bet. I only got perfect scores in Math that year. And you did… n’t go on a date with me. Not cool, ma’am, not cool. Anyway, not that a date would have made such a crucial improvement to our relationship. I don’t think I had any idea of what to do on a date with you anyhow. Homework?

Now, I guess you were cute and all. You still are, as far as Facebook tells me. Probably “slightly bitchier than I deserved” is how you should be described. But at the same time, I think the whole affair gave me some Sisyphean happiness… I did enjoy such a long and complicated chase. And at the same time, I think I always thought I’d eventually succeed, all the way up to the point when I didn’t care anymore (which is probably when we went off to high school).

I hope your life is as good as mine,


Episode 5

Dear Carrey,

Uh. Uhm… I sent you a friend request on Facebook about three years ago. You never accepted it. Are you really still that mad? I mean, we are 25. We’re adults. Plus, technically speaking, I didn’t do anything bad to you. I just wouldn’t quit. That’s not a crime.

Anyway. You were one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever liked. And that’s despite the fact that you were kinda chubby. I actually remember a lot less of you than I would have thought, though. I still believe it’s possible that you actually liked me for a very short time. But you would never admit it.

You didn’t mind being friends with me, on the other hand. We did fight a lot. Literally chasing each other and physically fighting sometimes during recess. It was all play, nonetheless. But it did hope it would be more than that. I mean, we were both 13-ish so it’s not like we didn’t know about the birds and bees.

You slapped me once. I’m trying to remember why. I don’t think I’m making it up, we were in the bathroom… no, in the changing room of the big sports hall. I think you were trying to drink water and I wouldn’t let you. You turned, looked at me seriously, trying to catch your breath after running, and just slapped me. That’s all I remember, I don’t know what my reaction was.

I’m really curious how you turned out.


To be continued…

Heat (not the movie)

July 6th, 2021

In my family, we celebrate heat. Both as a daemon we fear and as a dear friend. Romania is nowhere near the hottest country in the world. Nowhere near the hottest country in Europe, either. But Bucharest is. The communist-built capital is the most efficient oven of the country.

I am in love with the summer heat because I grew up with it. If I go anywhere outside this city, no matter how hot, I feel that the heat isn’t real. The sun can burn your skin but if you cover it, you won’t feel its presence. But where else in the country do your lungs burn at noon? The sensation that you can grab the air with your hand is holy. It is the symbol of my happiest days during the summer vacations in school. There has never been a feeling of liberty in my life quite as powerful after I stopped differentiating summer from the rest of the year.

It is now June 23rd. This is the first year since kindergarten when summer doesn’t free me from anything. It was high school, then college, then two years working as a high school teacher. This year, though, June is the same as March, September, or any other month. Except for the heat. You never expect June to be too sunny. Thunderstorms are common, especially during the night. But the days are burning hot and humid.

July and August are usually a lot dryer and that’s the beauty. You can camp out for weeks. Not like “out in nature”. Just out. You can be outside, outdoors, at any given moment, day and night, wearing just shorts and flip-flops. You don’t have to worry about the weather, about what to wear, about a chilly gust of wind. You don’t have to worry about the time. You can plan to infinity. It can be 10 at night, you’re wearing a T-shirt and shorts, you can just jump into your sandals and go have ice cream in the park. For weeks on end, the temperature doesn’t drop under 26 degrees Celsius (79 F).

And while that’s the case in many places on Earth, what’s special about Bucharest is the amount of Daylight. As you move towards the Equator, the difference between day and night length decreases. Meanwhile, as you move towards the poles, the temperature decreases. So having especially hot summers AND long summer days is pretty much down to Geography influencing the climate (not the latitude). Los Angeles is nice and hot but the latest civil twilight at the end of June stretches to only 8:30. In Bucharest, the civil twilight on June 22nd lasts well after 10 pm. Of course, Glasgow, Scotland, doesn’t see full darkness for months on end, but it’s also cold as hell most of the time (by some standards, anyway).

I guess it’s weird to say I got lucky being born here. If I hadn’t been born here, I probably wouldn’t have liked it. I have foreign friends who’ve told me they find it disturbingly hot in Bucharest. Even Romanians from the countryside have trouble coming to terms with it for mere hours they spend shopping here.

It’s July 6th as I’m finishing this. I was away for a while and forgot about it. It hasn’t rained in a while although the temperature is low now – only 30 degrees C (86 F) at noon. I’ve experienced 60 C (140 F) at times (in the sun – the effective temperature, not like they measure it in the shade. That was probably around 40 C – 104 F). I love it, even though you can’t really get out and walk around for too long. The idea of it. Somehow, it spells “eternity”. I don’t know why…


A note

October 5th, 2021

I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve updated the website diligently but I haven’t put any big content up. And there’s a very specific reason for that, and this is why I wanted to mark this moment in the timeline of this page. A lot has happened since I set up the website in the summer. In fact, the previous text is dated July 6th. That’s one day before my second child was born. Of course, that comes with months of adjustments. But besides that, things have evolved quite strangely on a professional level. I’ve received all of the results from the five screenwriting competitions I submitted to last spring. Almost all of them were very disappointing. I’ve gotten a lot into photography, I’ve written a very commercial screenplay, I’ve started contacting some people in order to find an agent. There’s been a lot. But the problem is, with everything that’s been happening around me, both with my career – getting hardly a fraction of the recognition I feel I deserve – and with society – seeing so many people not getting vaccinated and so many riots for all the wrong causes, and so much pretentiousness. It’s all made me very bitter. It’s made it hard to write. Hard to care about any story, in the face of what’s happening in real life.

And the thing is, it’s not so much of a political problem. I don’t really expect anything of politicians, I think you have to be a certain kind of person to become a politician these days and that kind of person is very shallow, vindictive, and inconsistent. That is how most politicians are. But much of the bitterness I’m feeling comes from the film industry – I guess this is turning into more of a Dark Side kind of text – because I expect a lot from it. I got into this (i.e. making a film career) vehemently denying and rejecting the idea that the Oscars are bullshit. I still don’t believe they are. But it’s important to punctuate that I had that child-like wonder and that innocent view of the film industry. I was convinced that if you’re extraordinary, you’ll be big. I down-right called Mario Vargas Llosa stupid in my mind because he said that a great writer will not be recognized. Now… I know what you’re thinking. I’m not referring to myself. I don’t even want to touch upon something like this. I’m talking about the great filmmakers nobody talks about. Kieślowski, Tarkovski, Wong Kar-Wai (I would add Bergman but I like to believe he’s still relevant at least for filmmakers these days). I just read that the creator of Squid Game had his screenplay rejected for ten years before it got made. And this is decades, if not centuries, away from being the first time this happens. So what I’m asking myself is: where does the audacity come from? How can producers be so arrogant? Ah, about this. Do you know what the manager of one of the competitions I submitted to told me (on record, in an email)? She told me that their judges can tell within the first ten pages of a screenplay if they want to work with it or not. Not if it’s garbage or not. They can tell everything they need to know about it. You know, I might actually publish the email but I need to look into the legality of that. Anyway. I just don’t have the energy to continue. It was just a note.