In this sentence,

I met him at the coffee place where I was working after I’d dropped out of graduate school out West, many states and several states of mind away from the New England college town to which I’d returned.

I know "many states away" means that it really far from a place, but what does "several states of mind away" mean? Does it mean it is a unfamiliar place or anything else?


3 Answers 3


The expression is reminiscent of the Billy Joel song New York State of Mind.

Being in a certain state of mind – described by some geographic locale – means to be comfortable with, and at ease in, that local culture.

For example, in the U.S., the Boston - New York area of the northeast is known for its hustle and bustle. Parts of the south are known for a more relaxed pace of life, and "southern hospitality." Some places along the Pacific northwest are known for an "organic" and environmentally-friendly lifestyle. In Texas, bigger is better.

The author here is just stating that life is different (perhaps more accurately, the culture and the mindsets of the people are different) in the New England college town than in the area around the graduate school out West.

From that passage alone, I'd surmise that the two locations – the New England college town, and the graduate school out west – were different in many ways. Perhaps one was in a big city, and the other in a more rural environment. Yet I think the passage also implies that the contrast runs a little deeper than typical urban-rural differences, with differences in the local color as well, such as how people generally interact with each other.

  • does it mean that the author lacks a sense of belonging in the West. thanks a lot, it would be a great help!
    – clay686
    Sep 19, 2012 at 10:28
  • @clay686 The context, especially the indication that the author returned to New England from the West, seems to suggest a deliberate distancing from the mindset, or at least what was going on while the author was out West.
    – bib
    Sep 19, 2012 at 13:19
  • clay: I agree with the comment made by @bib. Also, if you want more insight into everything the author may have meant, I'd want to know where this quote came from. (One can only speculate so much before additional context becomes necessary.)
    – J.R.
    Sep 19, 2012 at 14:33

This is a play on words. 'State of mind' and 'State in the United States'.

You can ask someone, What was your state of mind when you did something?

It is stretching the expression to consider 'several states of mind'. Of course, some one can experience different things during the course of the day - the morning rush - relaxing on the train - arriving at work etc.

To say 'several states of mind away' is stretching the metaphor even further.

The West Coast is very different from the East Coast of the United States, and there are many States between them.

The state of mind of people in the West Coast is very different from the state of mind of people of the East Coast.


State of mind is a term meaning "mood" or "outlook"


Although I agree with Robin's and J.R.'s answers, I think the pun actually goes even further than cultural differences between the east and west coasts. It refers to the way the narrator's own state of mind has changed -- from that of a graduate student to that of a grad school drop-out who has had to return (read: regress) and work in a coffee shop.

  • +1 for change in narrator's state of mind, but I am not certain that she or he thinks the change is regression. It may be seen as return to sanity, simple life, real world, etc. As @J.R. says, we need more context.
    – bib
    Sep 19, 2012 at 14:37

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