Girl in Need of a Tourniquet: Memoir of a Borderline Personality

The Girl

Merri Lisa Johnson believes in bold lines, strange truths, off rhymes, and the art of the glimpse.  She is a connoisseur of intensity, a hopeless romantic, a chronic workaholic, a recovering idealist, and a passionate guardian of distant intermittent familial bonds.  She loves her sisters.  She teaches college students.  She likes to read.  After pursuing various graduate degrees in colder climates, Johnson returned to the U.S. southeast where she performs a curious balancing act as author, professor, and Women’s and Gender Studies program administrator.  She drops things.  She goes by her middle name.  She hopes to do better next year.  Every year.

A newlywed lesbian-after-marriage, Johnson currently resides in South Carolina with her partner Stace and their two loyal shih tzus.  The mixed species pack of four shares a 1920s-era craftsman bungalow fondly known among family and friends as The Haney-Johnson Halfway House for the Bright but Broken-Hearted.

The Book

Equal parts literary experiment, psychological inventory, scholarly inquiry, and autoethnographic cultural intervention, Girl in Need of a Tourniquet is Merri Lisa Johnson’s account of coming of age, coming out, coming to terms with grief, and becoming borderline.

What the book is really about, Pt 1 (A Memoir of Borderline Personality, Psycho-Social Style)

Recalling her path through a dysfunctional, destructive relationship that brought her to her breaking point, Johnson combines her late-in-life coming out story (between ages 31-37) with the story of what amounts to a nervous breakdown as the result of an affair with a married lesbian colleague.  The affair prompted her to seek professional help after a lifelong misunderstanding of therapy as a stage for self-pity—the waste of time with fruitless whining.  Finally unable to avoid this grappling with self, Johnson takes her relationship drama to a counselor and discovers not only a path towards psychological healing but also a much larger personal and cultural narrative about borderline personality disorder, attachment styles in adult romantic relationships, debates over gender, power, medical authority, and their impact on the forthcoming DSM-V in 2012, the intra-psychic dynamics of impacted grief and the strange ways traumatic childhood loss can resurface in a wide range of physical symptoms and self-defeating patterns of behavior, concluding, finally, with the solving of a great mystery in her life about the root of her chronic depression.

. . . Teaser: it wasn’t her mother . . .

What the book is really about, Pt 2 (Memoir of a borderline Personality, Lit-Crit Style)

A performative love/hate affair with American literary history, Girl in Need of a Tourniquet sieves personal themes of coming out, coming of age, and coming undone through the daily grind of Johnson’s work as an American literature professor during the years featured in the memoir (2003-2006).  The narrative shifts periodically from the author’s ferocious grappling with her own frightening capacity for romantic obsession to the contrapuntal storyline of American literature as a literature of obsession.

Some of the most compelling, poignant, and unexpectedly funny passages in Girl in Need of a Tourniquet feature Johnson’s deliberately off-note responses to famous and frequently taught American novels, short stories, literary nonfiction, and poems, including Franklin’s Autobiography, Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” Frost’s “Mending Wall” and “Birches,” Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, and Toni Morrison’s Sula, along with passing references to the moral obsessions of Colonial America, the transatlantic passions of lesbian literary history, and the manic-depressions of contemporary media culture.

. . . RIP Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes . . .

The author’s process of making sense of guilty pleasures, tragic flaws, dysfunctional families, disorganized attachment, and failures of communication is revealed as the deep play beneath her lively classroom lectures.

The Fan Page

Follow the author’s ongoing reflections and insatiable research on manic defenses, bizarre symptoms, the obstacle course of emotional recovery, the upcoming revision of the DSM-V, and the borderline personality of media and celebrity culture—among other random notes, stories, comments, and newly discovered therapeutic tools—by becoming a fan of Girl in Need of a Tourniquet on Facebook.

Before Tourniquet

Previous publications include three anthologies in feminist cultural studies—Jane Sexes It Up: True Confessions of Feminist Desire, Flesh for Fantasy: Producing and Consuming Exotic Dance (with R. Danielle Egan and Katherine Frank), and Third Wave Feminism and Television: Jane Puts It in a Box—as well as personal essays published in Sex and Single Girls: Women Write on Sexuality, Herspace: Women, Writing, and Solitude, Homewrecker: An Adultery Reader, and Fucking Daphne: Mostly True Stories and Fictions, and academic articles placed in Discourse, Feminist Studies, and Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature.

After Tourniquet

Currently at work on a new book about disorganized attachment style and the spiral of addictions, frustrations, and neurological misfires it has produced in the first year of her very own Borderline/Narcissist marriage, Johnson continues to search for new and better meanings in the opaque moments of intimacy management.

For Your Viewing Pleasure

Merri Lisa Johnson is a dynamic speaker who brings the chemistry of obsession to bear on her public performances, wedding the traditional literary reading with the jarring strangeness and dramatic urgency of performance art.

Inquiries about booking a Girl in Need of a Tourniquet event with Merri Lisa Johnson for your campus or organization can be made at


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