Dishes must be done before bedtime

Celebrating the passive voice
By CAITLIN E. CURRAN  |  August 1, 2007

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In May, 25-year-old Brooklyn-based writer Kerry Miller was swapping Craigslist-roommate horror stories on a date. Both parties agreed that passive-aggressive notes — those trenchant, nagging reminders to do the dishes or turn down the music, enshrouded by faux friendliness and left on a whiteboard or refrigerator Post-It for all to see — were the worst. Discussing them, however, was endlessly entertaining. Which gave Miller an idea: why not create a place online to post and comment on passive-aggressive screeds? Thus passiveaggressivenotes.com was born, first as a WordPress blog, and later as its own Web site.

Miller posted three — including one her grandmother sent with a batch of homemade cookies, instructing her to enjoy the sweets but “don’t eat too many!” — and within a week submissions were filling her inbox. Now she gets up to 20 notes per day, from contributors worldwide, and this past month, Miller says, the site had three million page views.

The term “passive-aggressive” is used broadly. “They all share a common sense of frustration that’s been channeled into written form rather than a direct confrontation,” Miller writes. But the site’s collection of notes and e-mails from roommates, co-workers, and strangers is both humorous and au courant.

“There’s this sort of group-outlet-therapy feeling to it,” she says. “You get a sense of what our societal taboos are. The kitchen and the bathroom are the two hotspots.”

Indeed, on the site’s list of most popular posts, a box of frozen cookie dough is emblazoned with the words “do not eat — if you do . . . you will die!” A four-page, handwritten note reprimanding non-dishwashing roommates closes with “May the sanctity of the sink prevail!”

In some cases, roommates strike back. One pictured Post-It reads “Who is the asshole who keeps eating the Trader Joe’s sushi in the fridge?” Attached to it, another note: “Who is the asshole who keeps leaving such delicious sushi in the fridge?” In other cases, posts inspire lengthy comment sections siding with either the poster or postee, or opining cultural clarity. Beneath a recent photo of a sign warning “Do not step on the toilet bowl,” found in a Philippine public restroom, commentators discuss whether this is a reference to stand-up toilets (typical to Asian countries) or to using one’s foot to lift a toilet seat.

“My favorites are the ones that try to stay even-handed,” Miller says. “But then there’s one too many exclamation points.” For her part, Miller says she no longer posts passive-aggressive notes. “My roommate and I agreed on a truce.”

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