I’ve had a crazy few days. A challenging few days of tears. A few days that have also brought me a lot of happiness. And a few days that redefined some things in my life in pretty meaningful ways. 

It’s also a few days that unexpectedly brought me to Rome—and to Italy—for the first time. I’ll get into all of that another time, perhaps.

I have spent a lot of this week walking around absorbing this phenomenal place and stunned that I’ve never come to Italy before. I don’t know what I was expecting but it wasn’t this. I would have come sooner if I knew. But on the other hand, I’m glad I never came sooner. I think this was the moment in my life that I was ready for Rome. 

One of the standouts has been an amazing three hour tour we did of the Vatican. It was after hours and our tour group was limited to 15 people. Our guide, Gio, was an amazing and hilarious art historian who made every single thing we saw come alive with history and humor and humanity. If she did a weekly podcast explaining the context of a famous piece of art, there’s no amount I wouldn’t pay on Patreon to access it. 

The highlight—obviously—was the Sistine Chapel. We got to spend 45 minutes in there, all alone after closing, with Gio providing an amazing, passionate description of all of the backstory drama, and all the Easter eggs and mini-F you’s Michelangelo tossed in. If she ever gives a tour to a Hollywood filmmaker, they would basically option her soliloquy. 

If that weren’t enough, while we were having our 30 minutes of staring in pure-awed silence at the ceiling, a friend of the Pope’s came in and snapped a photo—a major Sistine Chapel no-no. Gio looked at the guards. The guards nodded and we were also allowed to take photos. 

Here’s what jumped out at me: Everyone knows Michelangelo did not want to paint the Sistine Chapel. He didn’t consider himself a painter, in part, because he considered painting “ladies’ work.” He was a MAN and men did manly things like chisel life out of slabs of marble with the brute force of a hammer. 

But it was his work with a paint brush that was the most physically grueling. Four years of standing on scaffolding looking up (he didn’t paint it lying down, says Gio, that’s a myth) and wrestling with this thing he felt unqualified to do but couldn’t quit. That is what gave him physical ailments for the rest of his life. The endurance, the imposter syndrome, the lack of choice…Something he was so afraid of doing he kicked the Pope at one point. Painted God mooning the exact spot the Pope would sit. Painted his own self-portrait as the flayed skin of Bartholomew. It was a physical, mental, and emotional artistic ultra-marathon. Far more arduous than his “manly” work. And more transformative. 

And it was his work with a paintbrush that is widely considered his best work. What he’s most known for. 

I couldn’t help but think about this in terms of toxic masculinity, the man box that men bully themselves into because their ideas of what is “manly.” A preoccupation that leads to strange things like men not recycling because it might be considered effeminate. Choked off emotions that cause rising suicide rates among the most privileged demographic. We see the toll of toxic masculinity everywhere.  

It was only when Michelangelo was forced—FORCED—to embrace “ladies’ work” that he unlocked his absolute greatness. 


Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:

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