She tried on magical realism as if it were the fall trend

Everything she thought in her head, she imagined writing as if she were a magical realist author. The night she had a fever, she imagined describing herself as having caught fire, and been consumed by the flames, and risen like the Phoenix. As she ate her mom’s granola, her teeth crunched through the seeds of he mother’s love. Sitting across from her mom, she saw a frail and tiny bird come down and land on the table, tucking its head under its wing. Everywhere her mom went the tiny bird went, getting smaller and frailer by the minute, until it could no longer fly, but crawled on the ground. Her mother’s watery eyes went blank and turned light blue and could no longer see the present, only the past.

But her father…her father was not dead. Someone who is with you for 28 years takes at least that long to die. He wasn’t a ghost exactly, but he might have stepped into the room anytime, and the fact that he didn’t pained her. There was his diploma on the wall. There were more photos of him than ever in the living room. How could he be dead when so many images and thoughts of him still existed? If she had actually seen him dead, he might have become a ghost. But she had only seen a casket. There was no body. The last time she had seen him in person was helping him to put on his socks at her brother’s place in New York. Or maybe it was at her mom’s house. It must have been, because they had all driven there the next day. She had watched David Bowie’s ‘Lazarus’ in the car.

Somehow she couldn’t remember him in her childhood home that trip. Maybe because all her memories of him there blended together. Maybe because he was still grading his student’s tests. Maybe he was still grading his student’s tests somewhere else. It seemed more probable than him being in a box underground.

Once she dreamed that she visited him in the box underground. He was certainly dead, but he looked the same as ever. She dreamed about him frequently at first, and woke up to crappy days at work. She held her tears in and felt them waterfall down her neck into the deepest part of her stomach where they turned into ice.

She was in Pennsylvania for a month after he died. And then the month was up, and she was back on the road, doing business trips and acting strong, with her back straight. She cried in the airport in Austin because she imagined calling him and telling him she was in Austin. She went to a conference about silicon chip manufacturing, and left halfway through because the people scared her and the tears she had swallowed in order to hide them were coming up ice cold from her stomach and she felt like she would vomit. She ran back to the airbnb and the tears ripped out of her as sobs. She roared like a bear, and her hair grew into a lion’s mane, and she became a wild animal, dangerous to look at. She ripped the pillows into shreds with her claws, and threw the furniture against the wall. Nothing was going to stop her from her reign of terror in this place. Nothing was going to stop her roars and bellows. The earth shook, and a crack appeared in the asphalt that tore its way up Congress Ave. A man in cowboy boots fell into the abyss and was never seen again, and a stray dog was also lost, but neither were missed.

A tiny woman baking cornbread in her apartment felt the lion’s roars and remembered when she herself had been transformed into a lion. She rushed downstairs and found the door and knocked three times. The roars stopped. A crack opened in the door and the woman saw an animal, a girl with the mane of a lion but a face that was gentle and bewildered. The tiny woman gave the lion-woman a hug and her sobs petered into whimpers. The crack in Congress St heeled itself up, and the sun came out from where it was hiding behind the clouds.

She never sobbed like that again, and she had never sobbed like that before. Her lungs lost the capacity to do anything more than a small sob. Her hair, however, remained like a lion’s mane, and from then on, no matter what products she used or what salon she went to, within 24 hours her hair was back in its manelike form.

N=1 diet experiments

I spend inordinate amounts of time researching diet on the internet. Like politics, diet is confusing and there's lots of fake news out there. That's why I'm happy to have found a blog that I think cuts through the bullshit - After obsessively reading for a couple months, I finally wrote Denise an email. 

Dear Denise Minger,

I'm writing you a letter to you on the world wide web. I found your blog in August, when I decided to attempt a vegetarian ketogenic diet. Several of my friends in San Francisco were doing keto (it's just becoming popular there - all the tech geeks claim they discovered it) so I figured "what the hell - let's try this." I was interested in finding something that would increase my focus and improve my race times. Also, let's be honest - I wanted to get 6-pack abs. This actually wasn't my first time trying a ketogenic diet.

I'd done keto 10 years ago, the summer before freshman year, after I gained a ton of weight on a Rotary exchange. Keto made me feel great and I lost all the weight I'd gained in Argentina, although it was a hard diet to stick to. Also I remember that I had to pee constantly, which made my first internship awkward. My mom, a nutritionist, recommended that I do a low carb diet.

Anyway, I mentioned to Mom in August that I wanted to try keto again, and she gave me the book "Keto Clarity." It was kind of a fluff book, but it did point to a lot of interesting studies. Of course, being my mother's daughter, I couldn't just accept the studies at face value, so I dug into them a bit more, and that's when I found your fantastic blog post "In Defense of Low Fat.".

To be honest, after spending approximately two days reading through the whole damn thing (I can't imagine how long it took you to write it!) I almost wished I hadn't read it. I was 10 days into keto, I'd just gotten over the "keto flu", and here you were telling me that maybe all of this was in vain?

I stuck to keto for another week and a half before finally giving up after Burning Man. I did win the "Fastest Naked Woman" award in the Burning Man 50K, which may have been partially due to having been in ketosis, or glycogen depletion, or something...

I've been researching for years and doing various diet experiments on myself, including: raw vegan (duration: one month - I did this because I was reading Steve Pavlina's blog)

  • Went wheat, sugar and corn free (duration: one summer - I felt amazing!)
  • Vegan (I watched Forks Over Knives in 2012 and immediately called my Mom, who let me down with the news that the China Study had been debunked. I still stuck to veganism for two years until my doctor at Bastyr told me I needed to start eating eggs for protein)
  • Vegetarian (I started eating eggs in 2014)
  • Pescatarian (I started eating fish again in early 2015 when I visited Peru and I couldn't resist the ceviche)
  • Vegetarian ketosis (duration: 3 weeks)

Being off wheat, dairy and corn seem to have the most positive effect out of all the experiments, but they're also the most difficult to avoid. I was tested for celiac as a high schooler (ugh, the procedure was horrible!) but my test came back negative. It may have been a false negative, since I hadn't been eating gluten for several months at the time I had the test, so my celia wouldn't have been flattened, if they ever had been. My doctor at Bastyr also suggested that I had a wheat allergy. I've noticed that wheat and dairy cause congestion and often bring on a sinus infection. Because I have frequent sinus infections, I got my sinuses checked out this spring to make sure everything was draining correctly. 15 minutes and $500 later (after insurance), I was assured that they looked great, and drainage wasn't the problem. It must be the wheat. Not all breads are created equal for me. Eating wheat in Argentina, and especially eating European bread, doesn't seem to have the same negative effect on me as eating wheat in the US and Southeast Asia. Other things I've tried:

  • I've done the 21 day Standard Process cleanse 1.5 times. It made me feel GREAT - maybe because I was off wheat.
  • I've tried to do a weeklong juice cleanse. I got so sick I thought I would die. I ended up giving up the cleanse after 3 days and spending the next 4 days in bed watching non-stop Woody Allen movies and vomiting into a bucket.
  • Also, I've been seeing a nutritionist, Sam, off and on since fall of 2014 (he's the one who recommended the Standard Process Cleanse as part of an allergen elimination process). He does a lot of weird voodoo (look up 'nutrition response testing'). Even though I don't understand or believe in his arm pushing and pulling, he managed to give me some amazing supplements that cleared up my persistent acne, made my belly stop hurting, got rid of my anxiety, and even cured a chronic IT band problem caused by overruse.

After all this research and experimentation (seriously, how many years of my life have I spent researching nutrition on the internet?) your blog really touched something in me, and made finding my perfect diet actually seem obtainable.

Because of your blog, I just plugged my 23andMe info into Genetic Genie and discovered that I have the same genetic mutations as you do. I have both the 'Warrior Gene' (MAOA R297R Gene - 2 TT alleles) and the Bad MTHFR gene. Yup, I'm a bad MTHFR (2 A alleles). This could explain many things, including why I'm prone to anxiety, why I've been diagnosed with ADHD, why taking hormonal birth control makes me literally insane, and why depression and heart disease run in my family. It might also explain why the supplements that Sam gave me actually did something - maybe they provided methylfolate? Or helped with methylation? Either way, I'm excited about discover this! 

I'm glad that you spend the time researching things in depth so that I don't have to go that deep. I still have a bunch of questions that I'd love to chat with you about, so I'm looking forward to our consultation. Here are a few of my questions:

How can I get 6-pack abs? What should I be supplementing with? (My current favorites include D3, ginko biloba, bacopa complex, wine and coffee :D) What do you think of Cod Liver Oil? Are PUFAs really bad? What do you think of MCT oils, like the ones Bulletproof Exec sells? Have you heard of, and do you have an opinion on Standard Process Supplements? What diets, or dietary supplements, have you found to be best for skin, nails and hair? Have you tried any nootropics? Any other genetic analysis that you recommend? Have you tried anything like Self Decode? Are you into biohacking at all? Have you ever been to HiveBio? Are we related?

Sincerely, Monica

Trying not to stop and walk

Often when I run by myself I end up just walking instead.
It's not physical. It's purely mental. It's extremely frustrating, because my mind seems to just forget why I wanted to run in the first place (to clear my head, or get a serotonin boost, or because I had too much energy) and decides to stop my body, and then I'm stuck walking back.

Tonight while running I got the urge to stop and walk about three miles in. I decided to focus on the feeling of wanting to walk to see what was causing it, and also as a way to keep me from walking.

I remember doing something similar while riding along the California coast on a bike. I had been taking short breaks every 10 miles, but I decided not to get off the bike just to see what it was like. It was extremely difficult not to give in and get off, but in the end I made it 60 miles without even stopping to pee, and the mental reward was tremendous.

The first thing I realized was that the desire to stop came when I was halfway into my run, and I knew I would have to start running back. Even though I was doing a loop and I wouldn't be retracing my steps, it was still in the direction of home. I realized that running "back" was a demotivator. It's really typical for me to walk when I reach the halfway point. Even if I were to decide to just run out and then take the bus back, I would probably still start walking halfway to the bus stop (wherever that was).

Everytime my mind would shift to think about being home or going home, I would want to walk. On the run out, I rarely think about that, but as soon as I start heading home I start to count the steps and look up to see how far away I am. Thinking about how much farther I have to run a real demotivator. In my ideal running state, I'm so lost in thought I barely realize where I am. But as soon as I look up and start to think "I have to make it past that stopsign and then run a mile down that road" my mind just wants me to stop and walk.

Running on trails is helpful because they twist and turn and don't give you good landmarks to go off of. The coast is similar, since the horizon doesn't serve as a mile marker. In both places I feel like I could run forever. Running at night helps somewhat too. The worst place for me to run is on a flat sidewalk or track in the middle of the day. There, you can't help thinking about how much farther you have to go, and it becomes pure torture.

I also realized that I wanted to walk whenever I thought about what I would be doing when I got home. This is especially true when I run before work or in the middle of the day, and I have to get back and do something boring. But it's also true when what I'm going to do is fun. I realized that's because it makes me think about how much time I have left until I get home, and when I think about time it demotivates me.

In fact, time is the greatest demotivator. Why do anything, when time will pass and make it irrelevant? Why run, when the time spent running is short and will be over soon? Why not just walk and take things slowly?

Sometimes to make myself keep running I check what the next mile marker will be, and decide that I have to make it at least to that marker. But that doesn't work 4 times of out of 5, and when it does work, it's because I've gotten lost in my thoughts again and forgotten that I set a goal at all. I used to be much more strict with myself about running. For eight years I had the same four miles that I would run each morning at 6am when I had to catch the bus, then at 7am when I started biking to school, then at 8am when I was in college. I enjoyed those mindless miles that I did as soon as I woke up. Maybe morning running is the trick to not stopping. Or running with friends. When I run with friends I don't stop because I feel ashamed of stopping. Also they distract me by chatting. But for long runs, my own mind is my greatest friend and distraction.

I'm not sure if there's a threshold of miles that I reach where suddenly I lose the desire to stop. Typically around five miles I start to feel good. But I've been struck by the desire to stop at two, three, four, and fifteen miles. Maybe the threshold is fifteen miles. Once you've run that many, you might as well just keep running until you reach your destination.

I wonder if I were to make a strict training schedule I would stick to it and finish my runs without walking. I kind of doubt it, and I suspect it might actually demotivate me.

Top 3 things I think about while running:

  1. Composing a blog post in my mind, usually about feminism or running.
  2. If I were a DJ and I were playing the playlist I'm listening to right now, what song would I mix in next, and would I be wearing?
  3. The art car I'm definitely going to build for Burning man next year

The Flight Home

This has always been my worst fear. Dad Dying. When my guinea pig Little Red died and Isaiah made him a tiny cross and wood-burned it with the fourth grade letters “R.I.P.” I realized that one day my parents would die too. That whole summer, maybe that whole year, I cried myself to sleep each night with the worry thought that Dad would die. Once he came into my bedroom and found me crying and I had to tearfully explain my anxiety.

It’s happened. Somehow, miraculously, I’m able to handle it. My worst grief happened in January and February, when I first found out he was having heart problems caused by his cancer, and then when I visited him and he was so helpless. On January 7th right after Mary had left I scream-cried into the blankets and fell asleep spent and dehydrated waiting for Tony to get home. I don’t even remember him coming home that night. The next night I slept on the divan so I could continue to scream-sob into the pillows I’d piled around myself.

The night I arrived in New York and saw him sitting in my brother’s apartment, he told us he was feeling fine but ready to face his maker. Neither of us doubted that he didn’t have much longer to live. Isaiah and I went out to a bar because Dad told us it was fine - he was just going to sleep anyway - and I started to cry while we drank our nasty cocktails and he looked at me, pitying me, like he wished he could cry too. He confided that he hated the thought that soon he would be having to make a speech at Dad’s funeral. His worst nightmare was people coming up to him at the funeral and telling him that Dad was in a better place and that he should place his trust in Jesus. “I just don’t know how to respond to them,” he said. “I’ll freeze. Because they’re so well-meaning that it hurts.” I agreed that I hated that thought also. I hated the faithful words I knew people would give. “He’s in a better place.” “He’s finally with Jesus.”

Mom believed so fervently that the treatments would work, and yet she also knew exactly what was going on. If there was a 1% chance, she was going to make it a 100% chance. She is someone with a will that can bend iron. Break iron. Stiff, scrappy, sometimes mean. She told us the truth on the phone as the doctors told it, and yet also led us to believe that there was a chance of survival. She was doing it because that was the only way. Believe until you can’t believe anymore. What else would she have done? Accepted his inevitable death?

“If I get five more years, I’ll take them,” Dad said, and my soul rose. Five more years. Five more Thanksgivings. Five more Christmases. I wouldn’t be ready for his death at that point, but I would be readier. It was still a long way off. Maybe he could live forever.

When he died the thoughts came, but my brain didn’t have to work hard to push out the painful ones. “You broke his heart. He died of a broken heart.” Not true. Next. “You should have called him on his last day when Mom told you to call.” It would have been too late - he was already wearing an oxygen mask and couldn’t talk. And it would have been too distressing. I’m glad I facetimed with him two days before and remembered him healthy looking and smiling. I know he’s not mad at me for not calling. He’s dead so all his pain is past. “If only you had made more money you could have found a cure for him.” That is an insult to the amazing doctors who worked with him, and to my Mom. He had the best care and the best treatment. He would have died five years ago without them. I would still like to get rich enough to find a cure for death though. “You should reread every email he ever sent you on the plane home.” Nope. Not ready to do that. Maybe not ready ever. “Dad, I miss you.” No. Don’t address him as you. You can’t communicate with him. He was here and he’s not here anymore. Don’t hurt yourself like that. Pay attention to the people who are still alive. “When I get home I can’t wait to tell Dad about…” He’s not there. The reason that you’re flying home on the middle seat of this miserable red eye is that he’s not there anymore. Again, pay attention to the people who are still alive. “Mungo will be so sad. She’ll never see Dad again.” I dwelt on this one for a half-second to long and started bawling. There’s something so heartbreaking about the innocent, unspoken grief of a pet. “Dad will never see you grow up and have your own kids. He wanted grandkids so bad.” I don’t even want kids, so this is less pressure to have them.

I feel like I can deflect each of these thoughts as they come and live inside my bubble of semi-shock until I’m ready to come out and feel. I don’t ever have to think these thoughts though. They’re too sad, too hopeless, to useless. Just live and try to be happy.

Even being home, in his house, next to the garden he tended, my emotions aren’t taking over me. I’m still afraid for tomorrow. I’m scared of mornings. I’m scared of dreams where I resurrect him, only to wake up and relive his death. But I’m not scream-crying into pillows. I’m not waking up and feeling empty. I’m waking up and feeling full of love. So many people loved him and so many people love me. I can’t watch home videos yet. That would hurt too much. I can’t look at photos, or listen to tape-recordings of his voice. I don’t want to.

I feel like I have emotional antenna that I feather out around me, searching for signs of his presence and finding both too many and too few. Every plant whose name he told me reminds me of him. May apples. Sassafrass and spruce. Every drawing of mine that he took pride in. Music by Bob Dylan. Playing Guantanamera on the guitar. That’s one of the only songs he knew how to play.

I want to show Dad all the kind people who are standing by us. I want him to see their multicultural outpouring of love. But he’ll never see it. Instead I try to be gracious like he would be. Put others first.

Using Jekyll

I'm infinitely curious, unfortunately, so over the years I've changed my blog from a simple HTML site to a more complex one powered by jquery, to a Wordpress site, to a Squarespace site, and now to this cute blog, powered by Jekyll. The best thing is that all I need for blogging now is a text editor and I have complete control.

Check out older versions of my site on The Way Back Machine.

Note: after at year and a half, I concluded that I hate Jekyll, and I'm back on Squarespace.

Follow your calling? Or follow your play?

I always figured that my true calling would find me. My Dad is a pastor, and he always talked about being "called" to the ministry. My Mom, similarly, talked about being "called" to motherhood. So in high school, my overachiever friends started to pick their majors and the best college that would help them down that path, but I waited. And when I got tired of waiting, I travelled. Halfway around the world, however, I still hadn't found my calling, and my calling hadn't found me.

Obviously, my calling had to be something that it's possible to be passionate about. Something like music, or art, or drama. Those are the callings that are portrayed as being higher, almost spiritual. You see it in the media. Paganini, who practiced violin 16 hours a day. Coltrane, who played jazz until his lips bled. Van Gogh, and the countless crazy artists who followed him, who stayed up day and night creating and ingested all sorts of substances and finally killed themselves as a final sacrifice to their art.

Growing up in 20th Century America, I was well-off enough not to be put to work in the coal mines (as my Grandpa's older brothers were). The mines might have solved my existential crisis about what to do. As it was, however, I knew from what everybody told me that what I did had to be enjoyable. Of course, my parents reminded me that everything takes hard work. Life can't always be fun. And they really wouldn't mind if I studied business. Or medicine.

So when I went to college, I chose to study film, with a minor in business just in case because my parents insisted. I dropped the business minor after my first economics class. I stuck with film however, since it was subjective and passionate and beautiful, and because I knew nothing about it. I enjoyed the constant challenge of it. I had to learn about f-stops and how to correctly wind lighting cables and how to calculate amps and volts so that I wouldn't set the living room on fire when I plugged in my 3-point lighting. I had to grow the balls to go knock on peoples doors and ask "could I use your garden for my film shoot?" Hardest of all, I had to collaborate with my classmates and choose teams of people who could actually get work done. And somehow, since I always seemed to end up in the director or producer role, I had to overcome my introversion and learn how to manage teams of people.

All through college, film kept scaring me, although I worked hard and got excellent grades. I was the first person to ever get into the major freshman year (accidentally - my advisor thought that I was a sophomore because of my AP credits, so he told me to submit a portfolio and I did). Senior year I got a grant from Gerry Abrams to produce my senior film. But unlike some of my classmates, I didn't work on film outside of class. I wasn't passionate about it like they were. It was just my education, and it was there to define me. "I am a film major," I could say at parties, and people would understand me and know exactly who I was. I could look up my course schedule online and know exactly what classes I had to take in order to graduate and become a film maker. Follow the coursework, and you'll end up with a job. That's what the teachers told us. Every now and then, an alumnus would come back from the real world to warn us that it didn't work like that.

Outside of class I actually had job. And I didn't realize it then, but this was a job that I loved. I had gotten it accidentally. My neighbor Daryl worked there, and in high school, when I had had my senior art show, he ended up buying one of my paintings and hiring me on as his helper. I was working on user experience research for government projects, which meant that I spent hours fooling around on a computer. It didn't feel like a job. I spent at least half of my time doing flash tutorials, making balls jump around the screen and rotate and change color. I even created my own paint program. I remember the thrill when I debugged it and it actually worked. "I am god," I thought to myself. My coworkers were amused, and they fed my interest by giving me books on user interaction and design patterns. I had no idea that you could go to school for this, or that I wanted to go to school for this. All I knew was that I loved it. I figured that if I kept working there, after I graduated maybe I could get a job there.

Unfortunately, I didn't keep my job there. Instead, I went to France for seven months (and accidentally ended up with a French Major and and International Studies Major), and when I got back they didn't need me anymore. So I went looking for another job and found a non-technical position at Penn State's computer help desk. I walked into the managers office, and asked about the position. "Non-technical position?" He asked. "We actually don't have any non-technical positions, only technical positions." I walked out. I was standing in the hallway when I heard him call to me, "Wait!"

I turned around. "Do you have any technical experience?"

"Er," I said, "I've done some flash programming."

"Flash programming? That's technical. You should apply!"

"Oh, ok." I said. So I applied to the technical position.

I was so nervous my first day of work that I was probably shaking. It didn't help that the girl I was shadowing accidentally deleted all of her client's email when trying to switch him from POP to IMAP. The client actually hung up the phone and came to the Help Desk in person to give her and my manager an earful as I cowered behind them.

After the first day, I found that I enjoyed the work. I was surprised to find that I was able to keep up with the other employees, most of whom were computer science majors or IST majors.

In October, my manager asked me to create a website for the help desk. "Could you have something by Monday?" He asked on a Friday. "Sure," I said. I'd never made a website in my life. I put my homework on hold and stayed up two nights working on the site.  I  sliced up a psd file and figured out how to make a working navigation and an RSS feed in HTML and CSS. It wasn't anywhere near standards compliant, and it probably would have validated as "crap" on the WC3's validation tool. I thought it was incredible. I showed it to my manager, who nodded and listed some changes that he wanted. "Could you actually make a Drupal site?" He asked. "I want to make something that I'll be able to update easily." I had no idea what Drupal was, but again I nodded.

And that's how I found my play. For me, it's that godlike feeling after you create a website, or a paint program in flash, or you figure out how to do a cool trick in bash. People always say that they're "not doing what they went to school for" as if it were a bad thing. I think that for me, it's a good thing. School was work, so I thought, as I had been taught by the adults around me, that if I was having fun I was doing it wrong. School taught me to turn fun things, like watching movies, into boring, pretentious things, like critiquing film.

Meanwhile, outside of school I learned to dance with my "work." I edited photos for fun in France. I started building websites as a hobby. I experimented with writing for student papers. I picked up InDesign. 

Nothing is work, but thinking makes it so. 

To Flip Flop or not? A UX question

This week I'm cat-sitting for friends who are in Hawaii. The first night I got to the house, I couldn't figure out how to turn the lights on in the kitchen. Each light switch had a rectangular panel that was either glowing or off. I figured that the glowing switches corresponded to the lights that were currently on, and the not glowing switches corresponded to the lights that were currently off.


Of course I was wrong, and ended up turning all of the lights up and standing in the dark. Standing there in the dar, the design finally made sense to me - of course the lights that are turned off have glowing switches - that's so that you can find the switch in the dark! The switches indicate what you want the light to do (turn on), not what it is currently doing. I ran into a similar problem two months ago while doing UX for a Windows Phone 8 App. It was a GPX tracker and it had 4 buttons in the Application Bar: a , a navigation button, a stats button, play/pause/stop recording button, and a settings button. The play/pause/stop recording button turned out to be the one that caused the problems.

After looking at other apps with "play/pause" buttons I realized that in every single one, when you are "playing" the play button is a pause button, and when you are paused, the button turns into the play button. In User Interaction speak, these are called "flip/flop buttons." This brings up an interesting question: should the label on the button define the action you want to perform pushing it or the state that that button represents?

Besides play/pause buttons, I can only think of a few other flip/flop buttons that I regularly encounter. One would be the TweetDeck "follow" vs "unfollow" button (the button on the normal Twitter interface when you are following someone reads "following" and only says "unfollow" if you hover over it.) In fact, an extremely commonly used binary setting,

ok, it's in French but you know what it means...

ok, it's in French but you know what it means...


In the UI for "GPX Viewer" I decided to go the route of consistency. Because the play/pause buttons had to show the action you wanted to perform when pushing it, all of the other buttons in the AppBar would have to follow the same rule to avoid confusion. I still felt somewhat uncomfortable with this solution.

In About Face 2.0, Cooper and Reimann (2003, pp. 341-2), arguably the experts on Interaction Design, say

"Flip-flop button controls are very efficient. They save space by controlling two mutually exclusive options with a single control. The problem with flip-flop controls is that they fail to fulfill the second duty of every control - to inform the user of their current state. If the button says ON when the state is off, it is unclear what the setting is. If it is OFF when the state is off, however, where is the ON button? Don't use them. Not on buttons and no on menus!"

So was I wrong to use flip/flop buttons in the AppBar? The exception, as stated by Cooper and Reimann on page 445, is when the current state is obvious. For instance, if you have one minimize/mazimize button on your browser window, when the current state is maximize the button should read "minimize" because it's clear that the browser is already maximized. 

After user testing for 3 years (the app is in the Windows Phone app store), I've received nothing but positive feedback. I take this to mean that I made the correct choice.