Unconventional is perhaps too strong a word to describe Jef Murrays
philosophy on life. Conventional doesnt suit him,
eitherand thats not a bad thing.
Murray has worked at Emory since 2000first in the Carlos
Museum, then moving last year to the Pitts Theology Library, where
he is an interlibrary loan specialist.
Murrays current position is a far cry from his previous vocation,
and he couldnt be happier.
Im a recovering engineer, Murray laughs. Murray
has bachelors and masters degrees in electrical engineering
from Georgia Tech and has spent the better part of 20 years developing
software, writing research papers, developing simulations, creating
integrated circuits and doing all sorts of state-of-the-art work.
After graduating in 1982 and entering the work force, Murray made
a good living, a good salary and by most peoples standards
had an excellent career. There really was just one thing missing:
All of our time outside of work was spent recovering,
Murray says of himself and his wife, Lorraine, who had built a solid
career of her own in public relations.
A vast majority of people feel stuck in their jobs,
he continues. The farther you go in a career, the more money
you make, the more valuable you are in whatever it is youve
chosen to do. As salary increases, cost of living goes up. Our national
pastime is spending more than we earn.
That was the carousel Murray rode until 1993, when he read a book
titled Your Money or Your Life. The book, written by Joe
Dominguez and Vicki Robin, educates people on how to take control
of their finances, whichin turnwould allow them to retake
control of their lives.
And thats exactly what Murray did. He leaped off the earn-and-spend
treadmill. He and his wife carry no debt.
They own their home, own one car (giving up a second car, Murray
admitted, was tough, but the fact he lives within walking distance
of campus took some of the edge off), and both work part-time at
In 1996, he founded a group called Voluntary SimplicityAtlanta
which is geared toward empowering people to develop financial independence.
Murray gives free seminars throughout Atlanta and also leads monthly
study groups on the subject.
His listserv is nearing 200 subscribers, and while the entire operation
focuses on finances, Murray makes no money off it. While the message
is not dissimilar to something that might spring from a Tony Robbins
infomercial, Murray is much less contrived when delivering it.
One of the points of Voluntary Simplicity is to make your
life whole, he says. A lot of what we do is give you
tools to look at your life and say, Does it all make sense?
Am I living in a way that is consistent with my deepest yearnings
for myself, my family and my community?
If it isnt, Ive got a choice, Murray continues.
I can change my values, or I can change my actions. Either
Murray says that Voluntary Simplicity has been called both liberal
and conservative, but he notes that it isnt either. Its
more about matching ones life to ones values, whatever
they may be.
Regardless, since becoming involved with Voluntary Simplicity,
Murrays life changed. Disillusioned with engineering, a vocation
he longer felt matched what he wanted out of life, he walked away.
The fact that Murray leaves work at 11:30 a.m. every day gives
him a chance to devote most of his time to what he now considers
his career: art.
Murray has painted works for the Georgia and Florida chapters of
the Nature Conservancy and the Tennessee Aquarium, among others.
He also has sketched pandas for a Zoo Atlanta fundraiser.
He donated his most recent painting to the Nature Conservancy of
Georgia. A friend of Murrays works for the conservancy in
an office on the Conasauga River in northwest Georgia. The river
supports 24 rare and imperiled species, including a certain type
of minnow called the Conasauga Logperch. With development quickly
encroaching on the waterway, the minnow is in danger. This is the
situation Rick Guffey, North Georgia conservation director of the
Georgia chapter, wanted to illustrate. He contacted Murray for help.
But, Murray asks, how do you make a minnow interesting?
You paint them this big, he says, opening his arms about three
And paint them in their vivid mating colors. Murrays minnow
painting is pictured on his website (www.marshnest.com),
and last week he delivered the original to Guffey. It now hangs
in the nature conservancy office in Dalton. Eventually, the image
will grace articles ranging from brochures to T-shirts.
Its something to show people, Murray says. Why
should I care about minnows? Thats why, he exclaims
with a point of his finger.
Theyre beautiful. This is where art can make a connection.
Murray averages one painting a week. What he doesnt donate,
he sells out of his basement studio (also called MarshNest, named
after his and wife Lorraines former home in Cedar Key, Fla.)
For someone who has concentrated on his craft for just three years,
Murray has been fairly successful. His paintings have appeared in
online galleries (like paintingsdirect.com)
as well as local outlets such as Primitive Eye. Murray also contributed
several paintings to last springs faculty/staff art show,
which was held in the Dobbs Center.
Theres a sense of legitimacy you get seeing your work
shown, he says. Its a very liberating feeling.
You go through this long process thinking about a hobbysomething
you do for fun. Then you start taking it a bit more seriously and
you realize, This is a talent I have, and I can share it.
I think a lot of people [have hobbies] that they are perfectly
capable of turning into careers; they just dont have any self-confidence.
I didnt either for years. But I came to a point where I figured
I could hang this stuff, and if it gets booed off the walls, Id
give it to my friends and neighbors. But it hasnt turned out
Murray jokes that he is moving up the biological chain with his
subject matter. He started with insects (the first picture he ever
sold was of a grasshopper), then advanced to crustaceans and mollusks.
Now he paints vertebratesfish and birds. No mammals, though.
Not yet, anyway.
Ive kind of shied away from the animals I really love
until I feel that my technique has gotten good enough that I can
do them justice, Murray says, listing a manatee as one of
those he hopes eventually to paint.
Murray sees his artistic life as intertwined with his work with
Voluntary Simplicity, as well as with a new endeavorteaching
classes in nonviolent communication.
At this point in our countrys history, it is really
crucial that people learn how to communicate in a way that allows
them to speak from the heart rather than just the cerebral cortex,
he says. When youre speaking out of your brain, you
tend to speak in ways that are domination-oriented. Its not
intentional, but thats the way the language works.
Im looking for a way to get people to work out their
differences in a nonviolent and compassionate way. We all have the
same needs and the same feelings about life. The problem is our
language masks that.
Murray plans to start the nonviolent communications classes in
September and will use the book Nonviolent Communication
by Marshall Rosenberg as the text for the 13-week class. The goal
will be to study ways of compassionately connecting with others
through listening and through words.