About 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 2013, 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.

What the book is really about, Pt 3
(Memoir of a Borderline Personality, Gay-Girl Style)
The author's diagnosis as borderline personality coincides with the slow dawning on her that she is a lesbian.  Her sexual orientation remains a total blind spot to her, long after her early teenage stirrings of girl-girl desire.  It takes the experience of falling in love with, and then falling apart over, another woman to realize what other people seem to know as adolescents.  The compulsory heterosexuality identified long ago by feminist poet Adrienne Rich still structures mainstream cultural narratives of romantic love.  One theme worth exploring in Girl in Need of a Tourniquet is the institutional heterosexism that prevents the author's younger persona from seriously entertaining the possibility of her genuine lesbian leanings.

For more info on media inquiries or to read a brief excerpt from the book, see the Seal Press web page for Girl in Need of a Tourniquet