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?”

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.

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

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.

Wit, Subtle Humor and even Cynicism towards the Absurdities found in the Human World.

A 5 star book review by Readers Favourite for Book #2
A 5 star book review by Readers Favorite for Book #2

What would it feel like to see the world through the green eyes of a cat? No need to guess, just read “The Unconventional Life of Haee” by R.S. Vern. The story made me keep turning the pages till the very end, as the writing generates beauty through its simplicity. The protagonist is Haee, a cat who prefers the eventful life in the back alley to the monotony of the role of a domestic ‘pet’. Rejecting the safety of a routine life, Haee takes the hard path and encounters several other cat-characters who display a wide and a very interesting diversity of attitudes and behavior. The story is all about how Haee reconciles with this society.

The plot bears features of an allegory, as it contains several levels of understanding. “The Unconventional Life of Haee” can be read and enjoyed as a simple tale woven around an alley-cat, although it has a deeper layer of ideas inter-twined in it. The themes are not made lessons. They are presented just as parts of the world it describes. The cats who appear through the pages of the book epitomize certain stereo-typical characters in human society. They have deep-rooted norms or conventions. Some differ from the majority and live silently. Then there are trouble-makers, like Haee, who change, and who wish to change their immediate world as well. What happens when unconventional attitudes meet standard conventions? R.S. Vern tries to analyse it through her fiction. It being the second book of a series, the writing denotes wit, subtle humor and even cynicism towards the absurdities found in the human world. The story is strewn with illustrations which contribute considerably to the artistic value of this piece of writing. Read “The Unconventional Life of Haee” and enter into the bizarre world of Green Alley, where cats are vegetarians.

Reviewed by Gayani Hathurusingha for Readers Favorite