Brian Mihok: An Excerpt from The Quantum Manual of Style’s Section V: An Approach to Quantum Style

This final section examines quantum style in a broader sense: how the successful student of QS places herself in the very context of scientific and aesthetic discipline. Here the ideas of apartments, singularities and theories give way to mystery. That we have broken down mystery into its many parts (see Rule 4 in Section 1) does not steal away its power. In fact, it strengthens mystery’s ability to surprise, confuse, and titillate because it has completed the gauntlets of both emotion and intellect.

To approach this topic from a different angle, we may ask just how does one live successfully in adherence with quantum style? A simple question that breeches a most complex answer. We may, in substitute of this general one, ask a set of different, more directed questions: On a tour of a new apartment, how will I know a storage area can fit all my possessions? After a singularity, cement realities seem to generate at random—how can I be expected to stop crying? I seem to be especially vulnerable to keeping messy code, do I exist as a patch of dark matter, yet undiscovered or explainable? What if it is difficult for me to see symmetry in the universe? Is God hiding himself from me as a result? We ask these questions because we feel them. We are urged by them. But the successful student of quantum style is easily a blind explorer. To be blind is to be able to see matter in the darkest places. What a coincidence to have so many blind heroes: Zatoichi, Matt Murdock, Geordi LaForge, Max Carrados. To be blind is to be set free of trivial distraction.

It is not explained to us that we need to eat. Methods of eating, types of things to eat, ways to prepare them, all are the science of eating, but we do not need to be enlightened of the fact that we must eat. A lifetime is littered with these urges that seem so natural. Quantum style is concerned with staying close to these urges, recognizing them, and not resisting them when it is advantageous. This speaks to the level state. A sense and pursuit of relative medium. Of course a rulebook cannot exhaust all circumstances, all potential experiences, and give a definitive ruling on which actions adhere to a rule, and which do not. At the core of quantum style, though, is a release of such a desire. It is a taking on of volition. An encouragement to create a schema to build a riverbank. It is not a riverbank itself. A guide for the guideless awake. But it is an incomplete guide to reflect an incomplete understanding. After all, what would be the value of complete understanding? Instead, it is about direction.

What follows then are some cautionary hints intended to enable you to project a direction so that quantum style, a cohesive understanding placed over the mixture of the universe, calls into question as much as it explains.


1. Do not follow quantum rules with rigidity.

Inspiration, imitation and observation are important tools. In leading a quantum life it is paramount that they remain so, as objects to be utilized to improve our efforts. However, they must not become, as in other approaches, dominant modes by which to understand the universe. Avoid relying too heavily on a muse-based approach. While imitating those we admire or are impressed with, do not linger in their shoes. Be careful to watch, to see, to know through experience and empirical measurement how the universe unfolds, but know when to cease your gaze and act. Successful examples of each follow.

While bowling, Loretta watches the next lane over. An obese little
boy rolls his ball down the lane and knocks a few pins over. He turns
and looks sad and Loretta hears his mother say, “Nice job, Teddy.
Excellent!” Teddy walks by Loretta and then looks down. That night
Loretta begins sculpting a clay bird, it’s leg held high as if to point out
the sun.

Uncle Walter invites Patrick up to his house every summer. The
house is in the woods. Patrick, only fifteen, is excited by the idea of
lazing about for the week, barbecuing steak and corn, and ordering
movies on satellite television. After a pratfall in a late night skit, Uncle
Walter lets out his high-toned giggle. Patrick stretches back on the
couch and first, to himself, then to the room, gives out his own version
of the laugh. Two strange cackling birds, getting fat, away from the rest.

A blind fencer shifts his weight to his heels as he parries an attack.
The foils stay locked to the side. The attacker leans in. They shuffle
their feet. They break and he attacks again. The blind fencer responds
again with a parry and they lock. Then again, a disengage, an attack, a
parry, a lock. Then again. Then one more time but the blind fencer
flicks his foil after the parry and lands a touch on the attacker’s chest.


2. Displaced bodies are surviving bodies.

Displacement, a more advanced concept in quantum style, is related to moving, as discussed in Section 1. To be able to remove yourself from a current place to a different place. To be able to move to a new place, in which opportunity arises independent of apartments, is mandatory for a successful study of QS. In order for displacement to become possible, unnecessary possessions must be stripped away. Linguistically you might say “I need a good displacement” or “I feel a displacing coming on” etcetera. Though displacement has yet been directly addressed in this manual, it has been exemplified throughout and is once again below.

Beth brought you to Sam’s apartment. In the early afternoon,
Buffalo was a bright city. You were always squinting. You stole a
staring contest with the sun. “That’ll hurt your eyes,” Beth said. You
looked at her and asked who Sam was. “Friend,” she said.

Sam was a tall, sweaty looking man. He had a deep voice and hair
on all sides of him. He was quiet and so was like a sleeping giant. Or a
waiting one. Or one that would go straight on a curving road. All roads
seemed to curve now.

Sam asked both of you if you wanted something to drink. Beth said
yes and you didn’t say anything and he came back with two small
glasses of whiskey. You smelled it and sipped and coughed a little but
nobody said anything. They talked about other friends and in the middle
of that Sam said, “So where you from?”

“All over,” you said.

“Yeah,” he said and laughed his deep laugh and lit a cigarette.

“Can’t sit still,” he said but you didn’t know if he meant you or him.

“When are you leaving?” Beth said. You didn’t know what to say
and starting to think of a good enough answer.

“Probably a couple days,” Sam said. “Soon as my truck’s in working

“Oh,” you said.

“Ever been to Ithaca?” Beth said looking at you now.

“How far is it?” you asked.

“It’s amongst the Finger Lakes. A few hours,” Sam said like he
wanted to sound regal and ran his tongue along the inside of his bottom
lip before dragging long on his cigarette.

“Is that where Cornell is?” you said.

“Gonna apply?” Sam said.

“My sister goes there.”

Sam looked you up and down and then looked at Beth and blinked
slow as if nothing meant anything.

“Got yourself a rider maybe,” Beth said to Sam. The rubber band
was wrapped again.

You said goodbye to Beth three days later and she hugged you and
didn’t smile. Sam pulled up in a red pickup truck from the seventies that
had rust on the fenders.

An hour in he broke the silence.

“This a surprise visit?”

“I told her I was coming,” you said.

“Don’t get all testy like. Girl like you, floating around. Don’t seem
the type to call ahead.”

“Well I’m not a girl, I’m a woman and I told her.”

“So what is your floating all about?”

“I don’t know.”

“It’s either a small reason, like you had an easy life and somebody
disrupted your paper clip collection and you flipped out or it’s a biggun.
Something happen to you or what?”

“Maybe. You ever see your dead pet walking around, telling you

Sam peeked over at you a second then laughed his deep laugh.
“What’s he tell you?”

“Mostly that everything’s going to be all right.”

“How’d he die?”

“He suffocated to death.”

The rest of the way Sam was mostly quiet except whether you
wanted anything at the gas station.


3. Have an idea no matter how unrealistic, then change the idea.

As exemplified in the following.

Salazar: By golly, I’ve got it! We will write down your name instead of mine.

Pontiac: But won’t they know? I’ll be standing right there.

Salazar: Let’s write Enrique’s name then. He will not be there.

Pontiac: That is a capital idea. Let’s go roller blading!


Flip: When I was a boy everything was right.

Egg: When did it stop seeming right?

Flip: Sometime in my thirteenth year.

Egg: What happened?

Flip: I discovered astronomy.

Egg: Now that you’re 72, what do you think of astronomy?

Flip: I pray to it.


Winf: I originally used pasatta sotto with wild abandon.

Pag: I love pasatta sotto.

Winf: I nearly refuse to use it now.

Pag: No!

Winf: Nearly!


4. Breathe forwards and backwards.

As is common in other approaches, the past is vital to comprehending the present and the future. However, quantum style is less linear in its understanding of the connections between tenses. This is not in conflict with unfolding events, but a reflection of them. In fact the connection between the past and its future is never as simple as one point connected to another. Physically represented the connection might look like a game of baseball being played during the day. A player can be taken out but never put back in, yet he sits on the bench beside you, whispering to you about the best chicken wings he has ever had. To enable the past to augment the present we can use the match-ups, the earned run average, the history up to this point, to make further decisions. We can square off, strategize, or sit on something fast and hope not to get fooled. We are satisfied with success three out of every ten times. We go through the motions because we need rhythm. Rhythm allows us to do things automatically. We have to squint into the sun when the ball is lost up there. And when we look back at the first inning, we can see how innocent we were, risking our lives for things we couldn’t know, swinging away on threeoh counts.


5. Do not understand.

Understanding in the sense of completeness. A sense of completion is vastly more useful than actual completion. We do not need to understand. What sense would poetry make otherwise. Zen monks breathe this idea. They breathe about mushin. The following explanation by Yasutani Roshi to a student has been edited for length.

“First repeat the word “Mu,” not audibly but in your mind. Do not
think of its meaning. Concentrate wholeheartedly on becoming one with
Mu. At first your efforts will be mechanical, but this is unavoidable.
Gradually, however, all of you will become involved.”

That is, understand to a point, but do not fret over not understanding further. In fact, avoid it. Work on a vocation, like cabinet-making or photography, instead.


6. Accept sorrow as a honing agent.


“You going to go home ever again?” Anna said. She was sitting on her bed. She looked so much older. Maybe you had switched ages, like you had taken a train, faster-than-light, and when you got off everyone had aged but you. You were on the floor sipping a can of soda.

“I don’t feel like I can answer that,” you said.

“What can you answer?”

“What’s it like at a school like this?”

“It’s different.”

“That sounds good.”

“Are you ever going to go?”

“School? If I can find someplace I like.”

“Anything close?”

You just looked at her, then back at the soda.

“I guess we’re different,” she said. “I can’t stop going. I have to take
another class. Another job. I have to learn more. Apply for something.
It’s like a disease,” she said and laughed it off. You were surprised
because you hadn’t heard something that sounded so frank from Anna in
a long time.

“I can’t sit still,” she said, this time not laughing. “I even finished
high school early.”

“I heard that,” you said. “Congratulations.”

Then you both didn’t say anything for a few minutes. You thought
you were both taking each other in because you were taking her in and
you thought she must be doing the same.

“You ever think about it?” Anna said.

“I think about Xray.”


“I see him sometimes. When I don’t expect to. I’ll close my eyes and
see the sun. Then there he’ll be. Walking around. He lets me know I’m

Anna snorted a laugh.

You looked around like at least you didn’t live in a dorm room.

“Do you want to go out to dinner later?” Anna said.

“I don’t care.”

“Well we can just eat in the dining hall.”


“Well whatever.”

You thought about Beth and whether she was glad you were gone.

“At least I don’t live in a dorm room,” you said.

“Fuck you.”

“Fuck you,” you said and kicked her foot dangling off the bed. She
kicked yours back and for a minute you went back and forth kicking
each others feet. Then she slipped off the bed onto your leg and you
threw the half can of soda at her. Her arms wrapped around your neck
and she pulled your hair. You pressed your knee into her stomach. You
both yelled. You locked up together and couldn’t move. You said stop
stop stop stop and you both stopped, locked like that. Anna was crying
and you pulled her in. “I’m sorry,” you said.


7. Be ready to accept fault.

The point here is not to assume responsibility for nonexistent transgressions, but to recognize that we are at fault far more than we like to admit. A neutron star has gone nova, mostly disintegrating the five planets in orbit. The third of which fostered elementary life in the form of what we might call crustaceans. The neutron star denies its responsibility for their destruction. It argues that it has taken the destined course of a star, and so how could it be held accountable for its natural evolution? Yet the crustaceans, in their very victimhood, proclaim their slight. Regardless of the outcome, there is blame to go around. The neutron star must bow to the reality in which it lives. It indeed has a chemical destiny. The destiny of a star holds the birth and death of the universe in its heart. No star should deny it. The crustaceans must just as readily admit this, whether their claim is valid or not. This is the trick of experience.


8. Accept the guideless awake.

There are people who find the idea of an afterlife more unsettling than if there was no afterlife. They might argue an afterlife makes less sense. That life after life is an absurdity. Either way an afterlife, as we can understand it, would be a unique experience not simply because each of us would be excited at the prospect, but because there is no way for us to have previously undertaken the journey. Yet for all we know, there may be validity to the claim of absurdity.

We are helplessly aware. A brain is in constant motion until it is not. How fitting that we need the very space we occupy to run our respiratory system. As if space itself is the substance of life. As if during the course of the game, the distance between the bases is shifted one foot farther, or one shorter, and as a result the game unravels. The distance was so perfect at 90 feet that any longer would be birth and death are instantaneous. Any shorter and we are all gods.

We have nothing to guide us but the dueling natures in our brain: what we think and what we feel. One may overrule or influence the other, and they often seem at odds. We take turns giving each the helm of our actions. Meanwhile, we keep our eyes peeled for a guide in this awake. Yet, all potential guides are inadequate. Some accept their inadequacy. These are more trustworthy. Beware of the guides claiming to be fully adequate. For its shortcomings, guidelessness has its virtues. Best to exploit those.


9. Coincidence is worth only superficial awe.

Las Vegas, Nevada is a nexus of coincidence. This is no secret, yet the city loses no notoriety, prestige or value. We pay to experience its vast coincidence. This is not questionable behavior. It is not morally invalid behavior. It seems most people have little problem accepting coincidence, no matter the scale, if they are ready for it. It is when it is unexpected that coincidence suddenly seems unlikely or absurd or supernatural. Present a coincidence as a stealth jab in the guideless awake and a human being will claw, fight, kill, love, or cherish anything to avoid it.

Still, it can be a healthy experience, in response to a coincidence, to step back and ponder the strange nature of the phenomenon. Remember not to linger too long in this state of wonder lest you prevent yourself from accepting the reality of it.

The phone rang. Anna picked up and went white. You sat up on the
floor and wiped your eyes and your nose. You wondered about whether
you should leave or not. And where you would go. The Queen City was
a medium experience. Perhaps a bigger apple.

“Mom’s in the hospital,” Anna said.


“She. Cancer.”

You stood up and Anna said something about an exam. Who cares
about an exam you said.

“I can’t fail it,” Anna said.

“You can fail anything.”

“I have to study,” she said.


“I have to study.” She grabbed a book off her desk and hurriedly
packed her school bag. She was sniffing and staring intently at
everything as if her eyes were tractor beams trying to pull everything in.
She left without saying anything to you. Outside you walked down the
hill. You came to the road that would take you to town. The other way
led to a trail into the woods and you took it. A minute later the trail
opened up to a waterfall. A couple little boys were yelling and fighting
on a rock, their mother watching and leaning toward them. The trail
collected itself again beyond them. You kept going and it led you up a
steep hill. The sun was bright and the day was still warming. Atop the
hill the trail curved around and you found yourself looking over the
edge of the waterfall. Maybe a hundred feet, you thought. You saw the
mother and her boys below, their screams echoing faintly. You were
level with the horizon above the trees. Steeples of the brick town center
poked up like pointing fingers out of the plain of healthy green tissue.
You felt the mist of the falls and looked down into them and had the
urge to jump. You saw the molecules of water spinning in their bonds
like solar systems suspended in orbit, trapped in their aging galaxy. You
saw a fever lurking over the Earth and realized it had always been there,
from when Dad loaded up the truck and drove everyone from
Wisconsin. You could see back in time and suddenly you believed in
time travel.

You were so far east. Your whole life had been westerly. You felt
something lost, like going backward. Something awry and against the

Read Brian’s interview with WIPs about this excerpt from the Quantum Manual of Style