Friday, July 27, 2012

Life Is Imperfect And Beautiful

This post is sponsored by Omhu.

You may be surprised to learn that i did not come up with this post title myself, as it reflects my approach to life so very well. But those aren't my words - they are the founding philosophy of Omhu.  Omhu makes canes. They are in the planning stages of their next project, to make a shower/gardening chair. Now, canes and shower chairs are both objects which our culture places in a special category.  Our culture views both of these objects (and others) in a particularly prejudiced way. Today i want to get across to you how i feel that Omhu's approach to making objects, informed by their philosophy, is about much more than making 'fun canes'. Omhu's philosophy is also helping to break down negative stereotypes about these objects; stereotypes which end up tainting the people who use these objects as tools to lead fuller lives.

The aesthetic in which mainstream manufacturers produce these products (dehumanizing, machine like, using chromes and grey injection-moulded plastic to echo 'industrial' architecture) reinforces these stereotypes, creating a feedback loop. Confronting these objects, we wonder how something so ugly and ungainly could play an integral role in a vibrant, engaged life?  Just looking at a standard shower chair in your bathroom makes you feel you're halfway to 'the home'. It's a viscious cycle.

At it's core, this stereotype boils down to: If you use a cane or a shower chair, it means you have lost. You have been defeated - by disease, old age, accident. Your life, by virtue of having use of these objects, is now less than it was before. Speaking from personal experience, i can tell you that this widespread, sometimes unconscious stereotype is wrong.

Stereotypes are habitual ideas. Happily, we can change both ideas and habits. In the 1920's, Dorothy Parker lamented, "Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses". But today, when i whip out my double-C emblazoned eyeglass case,  my acquaintances are more likely to muse, "And I thought she was a Kate Spade gal..." than reflect on my optical deficiencies. Spectacles have become so identified with style and fashion that's it's nigh on impossible to find a pair sans designer logo! Intriguingly enough, this transformation has occurred along with major improvements in functionality, made possible by technological advances. Thinner, stronger, more malleable materials allow better visual correction as well as greater design function and more comfortable wear.

Demographics and the baby boomer generation also play a major role in this transformation. The 'me' generation has focussed on fitness, individuality, and youth like no other in living memory, and they are hanging on to these values with unheard of tenaciousness as well.

Heaven knows we Americans are practically hypnotized by any and all 'technological advances'. From 3-D printing used to make skin grafts to Tang, our fascination with  these innovations knows no bounds. Right now it's evident in the growing acceptance and admiration of prosthetic limbs. True, modern replacement limbs can mimic the look and feel of the absent body part quite literally. But today's attention focuses laser-like on the high performance prosthetic. These limbs enable such incredible feats of strength and speed that legless athletes equipped with these prosthetics have quite recently been barred from international competitions due to their perceived unfair advantage over the merely normal.  This week we will see the first participation of a high-performance prosthetic equipped athlete in the Olympics alongside normal-bodied sprinters.

Omhu's vision applies these modern ideas about style, individuality and performance to the stereotyped 'pariah objects' in our society. They imbue their products with design elements guaranteed to bring fun, elegance, and charisma. At the same time great attention is paid to ensuring that the functional aspects of their cane yield superior performance. In fact, the descriptions of these canes will put the average American techo-geek more in mind of his iPad or smart phone than grandpa's walker with it's cut-open tennis balls for traction.

The kicker is Omhu's use of the classic cane shape - much brassier move than creating some new 'high concept' design. This cane is what it's looks like it is - it maintains it's intergrity and has no need to hide it's quite noble function.  It's one thing to lavish beauty and technology on a product meant to be used by the young, healthy, and high achieving. It's quite another to assert that older people, and people with various diminished capabilities derserve the same attention to meeting their needs as well as satisfying their individual preferences. It is this aspect of Omhu's project which, to me, sets them apart from and in front of so many other organizations in their arena.

Okay, you're thinking, all this is fascinating and current and pertinent and thought-provoking (i hope!), but - What's up with the pics of me in a tree? Through my entire life nature has been my solace and my love. Several years ago, due to treatment for severe atypical asthma, i sustained damage which made it impossible for me to walk, sit, or stand normally. I limped, had little strength or stamina, and experienced severe pain. My heart broke when i realized that my days of hiking alone, watching the flowers and trees and various creatures go about their days, could very well be ended. At night, I had many dreams of walking and running freely, often on northern California's austere beaches. During the day, i used every resource i could think of to heal my body so i could do as much as my fate allowed.

The day i finally found myself out alone in the woods of Point Reyes, espying a few Aminita mushrooms blooming in the duff, just able to make out the sound of the waves crashing on the beach hundreds of feet below the bluff - it was with a cane.  I could not have made it there without a cane, to give me balance, provide a place to rest, and add a bit of extra 'mileage' to what i could do. It even provided a bit of 'security' in it's vaguely menacing deer-antler handle, which guys looked at askance while quickening their steps and flashing a nervous grin.

If i now tell you that i loved climbing trees as a girl, i am sure that you will see my inspiration for the images in this post. Besides, tree climbing is quintessentially imperfect and beautiful. You'll likely end up with sticky sap in your hair or a scraped knee (bloody elbow in this case). But later, when your fingers run over that scar, you'll remember the wonderful feeling of being held in the arms of a hundreds year old giant, high above the land.

Ever since that day back on the trail i've looked at all mobility aids very very differently. To me a cane, wheelchair, or walker means joy, life, independence, and the gift of finding a love you were certain was forever lost. An onlooker on that bluff may have thought 'how sad that such a young woman needs to use a cane....'. But they wouldn't have known the truth. I was exhilirated to be once again where my heart belonged.

Thank you Omhu for making a cane that looks as beautiful as it deserves to be.

Tree photography by Anthony Rich.

This post sponsored and made possible by Omhu. Omhu is a design concern that makes premium medical equipment and accessories. Danish for “with great care,” Omhu was founded on the belief that life is imperfect and beautiful.

on edit: Kevin with Omhu sent along a nice picture of the canes Omhu makes, just in case you're unfamiliar with how they look. You can also keep an eye out for Omhu's ads, which showcase the ladies of Advanced Style along with Omhu's product.


  1. What a beautiful essay. Thank you.

    I once read that different countries have different conceptions of health and in America it's mobility. I guess we're independent cusses and want to be able to do for ourselves. And whatever's in aid of that!

    I have a lot of old black and white photos of my mother and her friends, in the first part of the 20th century in Europe, in the country, hiking. Low mountains. Many had "walking sticks", canes! I thought they were wondrously glamorous.

  2. This was beautiful; thank you so much. My mother has suffered a series of injuries that led to severe mobility issues, and she's only in her mid-60s, so it hit her hard, as she thought she wouldn't be facing stuff like that for quite a long time to come. Thanks for pointing me to Omhu, this has the potential to be quite a welcome gift.

  3. Lovely post, Steph - I feel like I have climbed into that tree with you. My mother could definitely benefit from a stylish cane as well.

  4. What a wonderful, wonderful post, Steph! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on a topic that is near to my heart.

  5. Thank you all for your comments! i realize this is an unusual approach to introducing readers to a company, but i had hopes that it would resonate with you. As you can tell, it's a topic which is close to the bone for me, and for many of you as well :)

    Hello Vildy! " America it's mobility. I guess we're independent cusses and want to be able to do for ourselves." yes! my feeling is that as the 'baby boomers' start to see that these types of aids really do help a person be more independent that their perception of them will change. And it's a wonderful side effect of a tragic circumstance, but so many of our vets from the middle east need and use prosthetics and they have been educating our country about the issue just by living their lives.

    oh, those photos sound divine! hiking in Europe, eating gorgeous cheeses and crusty bread and wearing french scarves.....we should book a flight right now!! ;) (if you get inspired to 'digitize' any of those pics i would be drooling to post them here! unless you start your own blog ;)

    Thank you Ana - i am sorry to hear about your mom. It's rotten when that type of thing hits you just when you're thinking about enjoying retirement (or at least less work). Canes can be very helpful, it turns you into a tripod so you're a lot more stable. And Omhu's are nice and light, plus wow colors.

    Give your mom a hug from me! :)

    Thank you Patti - you do have that whiff of the tree-climber about you ;) i think it's those curls, they have a nature-girl vibe! even if your mom already has one, if you're using one every day it's very nice to have a choice.

    just think how horrible it would be to have to wear the same shoes every day ;) give your mom my very best as well, Patti!

    oh Louise, thank you for reading and saying such nice words. These topics are near to a lot of us and i'm glad to be able to talk about it.

    Happy Friday!! steph

  6. The photos are stunning, and your message beautifully delivered. A couple of years ago, I suffered a viral infection of my nervous system that left me with weakness and tremor for years. I looked at grocery carts completely differently. All of a sudden they were mobility aids. I'm all for anything that helps us maintain independence when our bodies surprise us with our own frailty.

  7. Your point is very well taken. I have always been very active and a tree climber, although in my old age I've probably slowed down on the tree climbing some. A couple years ago I stepped off a chair and landed on my foot so hard, I cracked my knee and tore the meniscus. I had to use crutches for the first few weeks and wear flat shoes. (The shoes probably hurt my pride more than the crutches.) When I was able to graduate to a cane, my husband took me to Wal-Mart where he deposited in the foyer while he went in to buy a cane. I sat there feeling sorry for myself and the stupid thing I did to mess my knee up when I noticed a young woman walk in on crutches. Hmm I thought, interesting. As she walked by me I noticed she only had one leg. That was a major moment of attitude adjustment for me. I am happy to say that my knee doesn't bother me if I am careful and I am able to wear heels up to 3 inches, but if I should ever have to use a cane again for any reason, it should be at least a cute cane. You look romantically elegant in your tree and I did climb a tree in June and I am 61. Never give up....Kathy

  8. You are a perfect spokesperson for Omhu! I love the photos in the tree and that is a remarkable tree! My mother routinely uses a cane and in fact, has quite a wardrobe of them.

  9. Thank you Lynne! i am taking heart from your use of the past tense that you're feeling better these days? That type of experience sure re-adjusts your perspective. I know i do not mind waiting on slower-moving people at all, i'm just rootin' for them for getting out of the house!

    "I'm all for anything that helps us maintain independence when our bodies surprise us with our own frailty." Beautifully put.

    Hello Ms. Idaho! That is a helluva story, you there in Walmart. It helps to appreciate what we do have, and to keep an eye out as others around us deal with what's on their plates, too.

    "...I did climb a tree in June and I am 61." i love it!!! You get The Best Unanticipated Comment award for this post, hands down! and thank you :)

    Thank you Terri :) taking pictures in a tree is my favorite, i have to admit. That's an oak tree just up the road from here. We are so crazy fortunate to have many gorgeous oaks here, of many different types! That particular one is especially striking and of course perfect for perching ;)

    Tell your mom i send my regards! i always look forward to your posts of your mom and your daughters. Very interesting people and lookers, all.

    Happy sunday! steph

  10. I had to use a cane for the past two years due to a bad hip and a bad knee. After two major surgeries I am finally cane free, I really appreciated how much help walking with a cane was. Many people thought I was so much older than I am because of the use of a cane. When my stamina is better I will use my hiking sticks when I go hiking. I don't want to injure my other hip or knee.
    I never worried what other people thought about me using a cane but I did hear from other females that they would never use a cane... I didn't understand that mentality.

  11. Hello Adrienne! i have been so excited to see you back after your new knee! and protecting it makes a LOT of sense - my bonus ma had both of her knees replaced. It's a lot of time off, physical therapy, recovery and so on. But incredibly worth it, i cannot tell you how much more active she and my dad are now that she can move around without that awful pain.

    ".... I did hear from other females that they would never use a cane..." I agree with you, in fact i find that kind of frightening. Mostly i think that people don't really think thru what they are saying, but do they really want to stay home or hobble around rather than do as much as they can? honestly behaving like that is going to make you seem older, and frankly like you've lost your common sense.

    They call them 'mobility aids' for a reason ;)

    Take care and have fun!!!! steph

  12. My best accessory (and in reality the only one i know I will keep investing in for the rest of my life) is the pair of teeny, miraculous hearing aids that I choose in a bronze brown to match my hair. I can't imagine life without them these days (and even so, hearing in very dynamic spaces can still be challenging) and am ever thankful that my hubby made me realize I needed them.
    It's a different type of aid for sure but all of these things can help us get out into the world and just "be" if we take the chance.
    Great essay - beautiful canes!