Just Who are you Middlings?

As defined by R.S. Vern, middlings commonly have a comfortable standard of living, considerable economic security, moderate work + life autonomy and often rely on their own expertise to sustain themselves.

They place great emphasis on independence, value innovation, respect the non-conformist and have great concerns for the environment. They appear established and well-rounded but, often have insecurities locked within.

Middlings live among us but essentially feel apart from it all. They often ask themselves this:

“Are we just not as happy as those who are much better off in this world?”

An Interview with Haee by R.S. Vern

This is an interview with Haee by R.S. Vern. Haee is a middling cat from book collection “Haee and the other middlings” created by R.S. Vern. Silent and pensive most of the time, this is the first time he has granted an interview to a human being. After the interview, R.S. Vern revealed she thought she knew Haee, but actually, she does not now. The interview ended abruptly with Haee walking away.

Minuted by Middling Industries

R.S. Vern: So how do you feel now that people are reading about you?
Haee: *blink *blink *purr….  Life goes on. I still eat, sleep, poo, daydream, wait for death.

R.S. Vern: What’s your favorite drink?
Haee: Root – beer. Preferably with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.

R.S. Vern: What’s your favorite food?
Haee: Chopped chicken liver is my all time favorite. Occasionally, I like nibbling on prickly plants… just to tickle my throat.

R.S. Vern: Favorite song?
Haee: Currently, it’s “Bad Guy” by Billie Ellish.

R.S. Vern: What’s your favorite TV channel?
Haee: MTV.

R.S. Vern: Do you have an all time favorite book?
Haee: “The Outsider” by Albert Camus. I am intrigued by the character of Meursault. I respect anyone who would die for truth, even if the truth is hard to bear or accept.
When Meursault was sentenced to death at the end, he told the chaplain he had naturally wished for another life sometime. But it meant nothing more than wishing he was rich or could swim faster. It was the same thing and he said finally, “One which would remind me of this life.”
That’s one intriguing statement.

R.S. Vern: Any literary hero?
Haee: Quasimodo, the tragic hero from Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo. He’s romantically humane beneath that totally deformed outer body.

R.S. Vern: Is there a particular book you enjoy reading during rainy days?
Haee: “One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich” by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Reading it always reminds me the importance of simple things like a piece of bread, a book, a match, a string and most importantly, what freedom means.

R.S. Vern: What do you plan to read next?
Haee: I was just picking up “Down and out in Paris and London” by George Orwell.

R.S. Vern: Ok. Getting back to favorites. Do you have a favorite colour?
Haee: Are you trying to be funny? I’m color blind.

R.S. Vern: Em… ok. Sorry… (Embarrassed)
Haee: Don’t be sorry. There’s nothing to be sorry about. I’m still alive.

R.S. Vern: Oh… ok. Yes. So do you have any favorite food?
Haee: You asked me that earlier.

R.S. Vern: Oh… sorry…
Haee: Stop saying sorry.

R.S. Vern: (Clears throat) If there’s one thing you can change about the world, what would it be?
Haee: To have better and cleaner air in the city.

R.S. Vern: Have you ever wished you could be something else other than a cat?
Haee: I don’t mind being a cat. But sometimes I wish I could walk on 2 legs and not 4. Like you.

R.S. Vern: Why is that?
Haee: Then I can be a bit more normal and perhaps taller.

R.S. Vern: Huh?
Haee: (Rolls eyes)

The interview ended abruptly here as Haee walked away.

Over a Rare Sitting with R.S. Vern

Haee interviews R.S. Vern in a rare sitting at home. This is one of the first few times they communicate. Otherwise, they pretty much ignore each other most of the time.

Minuted by Middling Industries

Haee: Why do you write a book on middlings?
R.S. Vern
: I live in a small country where majority of the population is middle class. Many of us work hard in pursuit of a better livelihood, or migrate in search of a dream/ career. Sometimes, we end up feeling bored, confused, alone, unattached and unachieved. But I would like to think this is perfectly all right and a lot of us feel the same way. After all, life is not about having that perfect ending, but having that extraordinary journey.

Haee: What’s your definition of middlings?
R.S. Vern: Middlings live in the city. They have a comfortable standard of living and rely on their own expertise to sustain themselves. They place great emphasis on independence and have great concerns for the environment. Whilst they appear well rounded and established, they often have insecurities locked within.

Haee: When did you start writing this series?
R.S. Vern
: I started conceptualising this series in 2008 during one of my trips to Japan. I was sitting in a café on a weekday afternoon and I saw Japanese salary men in their work suits and brief cases, gazing out of the window listlessly, seemingly waiting for time. When it was six o’clock, many of them stood up and left as if it was time to go home. I later realised many of these men were unemployed. They needed to either pretend they were going to work so that their families wouldn’t judge them as incompetent, or follow a routine which they had become so familiar with. I thought that was rather peculiar and yet, so poignant in this society we live in.

Haee: Why do you constantly have rules that your characters are being subjected to?
R.S. Vern
: Whilst we are all free to make our own choices, we also need a set of rules to live by. And that is the dilemma most of us face. We hate being caged in by rules and regulations and yet, we feel lost and aimless without them. In every new environment, we need a set of rules to discipline our thoughts and make sense of the new. We are always conditioned to adapt at the end of the day.

Haee: Why do you use me as the protagonist in your series?
R.S. Vern
: This series is about middling lives and it is something that is quite close to my heart. I feel it is less brutal to see life through the eyes of a cat.

Haee: So are you writing you as me, if you know what I mean?
R.S. Vern
: Actually yes, I know what you mean. The answer is yes and no. Yes, because I am somewhat very much like you, independent, restless and free-spirited. No, because I think I am somewhat like Tom and Jane too as I am often bounded by the demands and realities of living in the city I am in.

Haee: In Book 1 “Haee The cat with a crooked tail”, Tom and Jane are portrayed as middling characters that constantly wish they were doing something else. Is there an underlying message behind this?
R.S. Vern
: Middlings often ask themselves this question: “Are we not as happy as those who are much better off in this world?” We often find ourselves doing something we may not enjoy best because of the realities and demands of living in the city. But I think most of us have a secret desire to live a life that is less demanding and more frivolous.

Haee: Just for the record, I do not have a long and crooked tail. Why does my character in your book have a long and crooked tail?
R.S. Vern
: Middlings are never perfect people. All the characters in this series have physical imperfections about them. You have a long and crooked tail. Tom has claw-like hands. Jane has chronic hives. Whie has a big red nose that almost covers her face. It is fiction after all.

Haee: Thanks for the session. Chill.
R.S. Vern
: Okaaaayy…. that’s a bit abrupt. But chill anyway.

Beautifully Illustrated and Thought Provoking Modern Day Allegory

This is the simple but poignant story of Haee, a cat with a crooked tail who lives a comfortable and worry-free life with his loving family.

One day, curious Haee goes exploring in a black hole and gets lost. Haee is discovered by Tom and Jane. Tom and Jane take Haee home and give Haee everything he could possibly need or want. Though they appear to be a perfect couple living a perfect life filled with good jobs, exercise, organic food, sleep, a nice car and everything they need, Tom is secretly dissatisfied with the busy urban life and wishes for clean fresh air and Jane wishes she were a bird and could fly away and see the world.

Haee, in spite of his pampered life, treats and his part in making the house run smoothly, discovers that he, too, is missing something. So one day Haee decides to go play with the cats in the alley and make friends with Whie – the one cat that all the other cats ignore because of her big red nose.  Haee enjoys being with Whie so much that he does not return to Tom and Jane.

The first in a trilogy, this story centers on the themes of need versus want, self-fulfillment and motivation. Author R.S. Vern introduces the concept of “Middlings” to the reader in the introduction, explaining that Middlings are those who appear to have it all, are independent, respect non-conformists and the environment but feel “apart from it all”. They also often ask themselves: “Are we not as happy as those who are much better off in this world?”

Haee, Tom and Jane are all Middlings who appear to have everything they could possibly need and want to be comfortable. But, as the evocative and enticingly detailed pen-line illustrations show, there is an underlying sense of dissatisfaction that grows in spite of all “needs” being met. Realizing this, Haee acts on his desires leaves the comfort of home in search of more satisfying life.

The ending comes somewhat abruptly, leaving a sense that the story is incomplete, however Vern does effectively brings to light the question about whether or not having it all is really the paradigm for the middle class working Tom and Jane, and whether Haee, or any other Middling, is really living more if they are less “comfortable”.

Vern’s story is engaging on many levels and the mostly-black-and-white illustrations add a contemporary and stylish elegance to the clean, crisp layout of the ebook that also features pop up text boxes when narrative is double clicked.

HAEE is a beautifully illustrated and thought-provoking modern-day allegory suitable for older children and grown-ups alike.

Reviewed by Maya Fleischmann for IndieReader.

Appealing Illustrations which are Whimsical but Tempered with a Dash of Quirky, Edward Gorey-style Grimness

Cats from Green Alley

How does one leave a middling – that is, average – life behind? And what does an unconventional existence look like?

In the second installment of a three-part series, local author R.S. Vern explores these questions and continues the story of Haee, a cat which is pretty average in every way, save for his exceptionally long tail. The first book in this illustrated series, Haee: The Cat with a Crooked Tail, saw the titular feline leaving behind a comfortable and routine life with his owners, Tom and Jane, to experience life on the streets.

Like the first book, The Unconventional Life of Haee features appealing illustrations which are whimsical but tempered with a dash of quirky, Edward Gorey-style grimness. As the story opens, Haee’s explorations have taken him to the back alley behind the neighbourhood. Here, he befriends a motley crew of cats, including Whie, who is ostracised by the others because of her “unusually big red nose”.

Unlike the others, Haee is attracted to Whie, who he finds “really special and interesting”, and not just because of her oversize schnoz. For starters, the latter is vegetarian – her way of “saving the world and making it a better and more harmonious place to live in”.

Whie’s “queer eating habit” befuddles all the other cats, except Haee. (It’s easy to see the parallel to the human world here: As a once-vegetarian, I can honestly say that few things perplex omnivores more than someone who won’t eat anything which once had a pulse.) Fascinated, Haee learns to eat leftover pizza discarded in the alley instead of the usual roaches and rats. He even goes so far as to implement a set of rules forbidding the alley cats from eating any living creature.

As with many noble New Year’s resolutions and good intentions, things go according to plan for a while. However, it doesn’t take too long before the cats tire of their new lifestyles and revert to their old, roach-hunting ways. Disillusioned, Haee decides to move on without Whie, who is perfectly “comfortable with her life” in the alley.

Ending on an inconclusive note, this book sets the stage for book three, where we’ll (hopefully) find out the answers to questions such as: Will Haee return to a safe and comfortable life with Tom and Jane? Will he see Whie again? And will he ever find the different life he is looking for? Then again, as the author notes, perhaps life is not about achieving that perfect ending, but “having that extraordinary journey”, where dreaming and searching never stops.

By Lynette Koh, Senior Writer, ilovebooks.com

R.S. Vern wins the IndieReader Discovery Awards 2013!

Haee The cat with a crooked tail book cover wins

Middling Industries proudly announces “Haee The cat with a crooked tail” as the winner of IndieReader Discovery Awards 2013 under kid’s category. First published in June 2012, this is the first book in its series “Haee and the other middlings”.

R.S. Vern, creator and author of this series, says she is deeply encouraged by this win. When she first started writing this series, her purpose was to deter children from wanting to grow up too fast and furious. Through the ingenious eyes of a cat, she pans out a story about the endless frustrations and dilemmas grown ups face in this middling world of the 21st century.

R.S. Vern calls herself one serious middling – urbanised, bored, most of the time, confused. She recounts a particular incident at a dinner party which left her a deep imprint that fueled her writing on middlings.

“I was at a dinner party surrounded by great friends, drinking myself silly when I suddenly looked around me and I felt very alone. I was listening and not listening at the same time when the hostess was giving her speech and I had all kinds of silly thoughts running through my mind. What if I was born differently? What if this was the 1940s? What if George Clooney truly asked me out for breakfast? Would I say yes? What if Lady Gaga was my girlfriend? Would I start wearing her underwear? But there wasn’t any what-ifs. There was only as-is. The present, the truth and you.” – R.S. Vern

Middlings, as R.S. Vern defines, almost always wish they can have a different life. Even when you drive a fast car, have a great career, a great bunch of friends to hang out with, you’ll still think of having another life. And you feel trapped when 99% of the time, you are almost never going to have that other life. You go on searching for new experiences, at times feeling lost and aimless. But Vern believes there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

So for you alone, bored and lost people out there, take on chance on this very peculiar indie read.

About IndieReader Discovery Award
The goal of the annual IndieReader Discovery Award (IRDA) is to find talented writers and great books and is open to all self-published books with a valid ISBN. Judging is based on the quality of writing and the originality of the story. The judging panel includes top agents, traditional publishers, PR people, bloggers, and book reviewers. More information here.

24 Hours with the Cat

An observation on what Haee’s daily routine was recently carried out by Middling Industries. This was charted across a duration of 1 month, in the house of R.S. Vern (owner/ writer of Haee). At the end of it, we asked Haee if he feels happy and contented doing the things he does everyday. This was what Haee said:

“Although I go through a standard and comfortable routine everyday, it does not mean I am totally happy with what I do. Although I am well-fed and never have to worry about going hungry, it does not necessarily mean I am fully contented.  I often wish I could have more time in a day. If I could have an extra 2 hours everyday, I would choose to exercise and get fit.”

We believe what Haee meant by exercising is simply wandering around the house. But this is based on our assumptions only.