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Scott DeLuzio: 00:00:03 Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast, where we talk about issues affecting Veterans after they get out of the military. Before we get started, I'd like to ask a favor if you haven't done so already, please rate and review the show on Apple podcasts. If you've already done that, thank you. These ratings help the show get discovered so it can reach a wider audience. And while you're there click the subscribe button so that you get notified of new episodes as soon as they come out. If you don't use Apple podcasts, you can visit DriveOnPodcast.com/subscribe to find other ways of subscribing, including our email list. I'm your host, Scott DeLuzio. And now let's get on with the show today. My guest is Maria Salazar. Maria is a nine-year Marine Corps Veteran who has found the benefits of art therapy and founded Claymore Vets, which is a nonprofit that provides Veterans with a way to explore their creative side. So, Maria, welcome to the show. Why don't you give us a little bit of a background about yourself and tell us a little bit about your military service.
Maria Salazar: 00:01:08 Thanks so much for having me, Scott. I'm really excited to talk about this. I served in the Marine Corps for nine years. I deployed to Iraq in ’03 like I mentioned earlier, I've always found art as a mode of dealing with life. It was always my go-to and until I found Clay in 2016, it was one of my required courses for my art therapy degree and everything just clicked for me. The media changed the way I processed my own emotionality, and I see how it could be a medium for Veterans to work with because of the physicality, the demand is very sensory seeking. So yeah, that's how Claymore Vets was born.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:02:01 I love the name by the way, incorporating the clay as the medium for the art and then the play on words with the Claymore and everything. That's awesome. How did you discover that you had an artistic side? Before we started recording, I know you said that you've always been into art in one way or another. You were telling me that even when you were in Iraqi, you had carried a little sketchbook around with you and you would draw little things here and there. Where did that originally come about with you? Is that something that came about when you were a kid and your childhood or something like that, or how did that come about?
Maria Salazar: 00:02:40 It definitely started when I was in my childhood. When we grew up in Peru, I lived in the ‘90s where Peru was run with terrorist organizations. And my dad was the equivalent of the FBI here. And at that time, they would literally take out a hit list of people that they were wanting to take off from the government and stuff. And it was just really insane. So, my dad ended up coming here and seeking political asylum. So, when he left, immigration laws are so messed up, that it took us almost three and a half years for us to be able to come. So, my initial dive into art was trying to deal with that when my dad left. I think when he left, I was 10. Yeah, just about 10 years old. And so, I started drawing just because I couldn't understand what was going on. I think early on I developed that as a coping mechanism for anything, for life, when I was really stressed or sad or anything, I would just dive into creating.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:04:09 And that's interesting that at such a young age, you had the the ability to come up with that coping mechanism of drawing and you're expressing yourself through the artistic side of you. That's pretty interesting that you had that ability to do that at such a young age. What eventually turned you on to art therapy? You said you had your degree in art therapy. What turned you on to that? Obviously after getting out of the Marine Corps, you turned to that; but what brought you there?
Maria Salazar: 00:04:51 Yeah, so I had a lot of detours after the Marine Corps. I became a fitness instructor. I used to teach assume bucket boxing, belly dance, anything. Then I moved to New York; we had our twins and then I became a stay-at-home mom. My life completely changed. And then I got the news that one of my corporals that we worked with for years, he was one of the 22 and it hit me so hard because we talked all the time. We would always be texting and stuff and not once did he say that he was feeling this way, or he needed help, you know? I felt like I let him down; how did I not see it? And so, it just happened that my twins went back to school and I had all this free time.
Maria Salazar: 00:05:41 And I was like, what am I going to do now? So, I was like, okay, you guys are going back to school, mommy's going back to school too. And that's how I decided to go back for therapy. And I think I just grew really frustrated with Veterans jumping through hoops to try to get help. You know, they tell us, “Oh, reach out, talk about it. You know, you're not alone.” But when you go, you just try to go through the system you're out alone. I remember trying to talk to a psychiatrist and the appointment was four months out. And then when they bring it back to you, it's like you get 45 minutes. And then it's like the next number. But meanwhile, they send you a shit load of pills. They send you a whole bunch of pills in here just to maneuver the pain, but let's not fix you, let's keep giving you emotion and water.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:06:41 Yeah, for sure. I've been there too. I've gone through that process. And it almost seemed like the first thing they wanted to try was just send you some pills to solve whatever the problem was, as opposed to digging in and really figuring out what the problem is and talking through it and stuff. Because, quite frankly, I do understand it. It takes time to go through all the talk therapy and digging in and finding out what the issues are and processing everything. It could be months before you actually dig under the surface and figure out what's actually going on. Maybe as a way of just stopping or reducing the 22-a-day issue that's been going on, maybe they are prescribing some medications that are a temporary measure.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:07:35 Maybe, I don't know. I'm just trying to think through it logically, what could be the reason that they do that, because you're not the first person that I've talked to that has had a similar experience like that. The art therapy itself, I think has a lot of power behind it. Just this past weekend, I found myself, actually doing a painting and I was painting and my kids came around and they wanted to join in. So, we all had our stuff, we're sitting next to each other at the kitchen counter. We had some canvas and we were just painting on these things. And we were just following in each other's footsteps and feeding off of each other and stuff. And it was fun and it was enjoyable. And I just got lost in that moment and wasn't really thinking about all the other crap that was going on in my head. And it just helped to not have to worry about anything else other than, “Hey, my kids are having fun. I'm having fun.” What else is there?
Maria Salazar: 00:08:39 Yeah. I love that you said that because the philosophy of art therapy is that it opens the door to your emotions, your feelings, to your thoughts. And a lot of times we have barricaded that. But if no one is picking at it, like a psychiatrist, “well, tell me about it. How do you feel about it?” It becomes so repulsive sometimes, but the process of art making, you go are your own pace, you get into a flow mode and then you start internalizing, your feelings, your emotions. And then the fact that you said that your kids joined in and you guys were all having a good time. That's the key that we're all missing. I think the connection to families to, humanity, and I think art therapy's role is to bring down that wall so that you could slowly start reconnecting, there's little neurons just kind of like, Hey, you know?
Scott DeLuzio: 00:09:48 Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, it's one of those things that I think a lot of people have trouble with when they get back is reconnecting with, whether it's their spouse or their kids, or other family members or friends and things like that. And if they can do those little things to help reconnect with people, I think it's a great thing. And I've talked to several people about art therapy and the way it's helped them. I'm not like a professional artist or anything, what I do is not like anything going to be hanging up in a museum anywhere anytime soon, but it's just something fun to do. And if no one ever sees it, then I don't care. It's just something to do. And it's something, that's enjoyable to me.
Maria Salazar: 00:10:38 Yeah. I think a lot of people have that, a little bit of a reset. I want to say restorations by that mentality that, “Oh, I'm not an artist. I'm not good at art.” There's a difference between being an artist and wanting to make masterpieces and being into the art therapy, the process of creating.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:10:59 And again, like anything, if you're worried about “Oh, is this going to look good or not first off, who cares? And second off, no one's good at anything that they try the very first time they tried to do it. So, if you're a little bit reserved about it, and you're not sure if you actually want to try to do any of this stuff, I'm not saying you have to go out and buy all these art supplies or anything like that. Just doodle, draw a sketch, pencil and paper is really all you need to draw something. Eventually if you're worried about that type of stuff, am I good at it? Eventually you'll get better as you learn what you're doing and you go on. So, practice makes perfect. And I'm not saying that anyone's going to ever get perfect, but just do it and give it a shot. See what happens.
Maria Salazar: 00:11:47 I think that's the reason, well, what you said about people wanting to try out things or whatever. I think there's a reason why I wanted to set up Claymore vets because I wanted to give Veterans different options. You know, there's a lot of art therapy programs that do that. They teach you painting with water colors, the basic, but the more common mediums. Not very many Veterans have access to working with clay, and I really do think this is a medium that goes great with Veterans.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:12:29 And before we started recording, you were talking about one of the things that you get to do with working with clay, is you literally get to play with fire, with how the whole process of going from start to finish with the clay there's fire involved. And it's a real physical channel thing. You're molding it with your hands and then you're putting it into the fire. And the process of doing that, it's something that like you said, a lot of Veterans maybe just don't have access to the resources that they need to do that quite as easily as picking up a pad of paper and a pencil or something like that, and just sketching out something. Let's talk about what it is that you do with Claymore Vets and how you're helping out Veterans, through your organization and what it is.
Maria Salazar: 00:13:25 Yeah. So, Claymore Vets, and I love that you've picked that up, the play on words, because I was said Veterans are going to pick that up. Like wait, Claymore to blow us up; no, you get to blow up your emotions, bro. That's what it is. Our goal is to do more than play, right? We'll give you the clay, but then we'll also give you the symbolism. We give you the safe space to creatively explore your own emotions. Clay is such a demanding medium for the first 10 minutes. You start working with it, you block everything out of the world, because your senses are all in it at once, your touch, because clay as a very central medium is wet, it's cold, it's smells kind of earthy.
Maria Salazar: 00:14:15 It demands your physical effort, right? So, in the first 10 minutes of you working with clay, you're right into flow. So, then everything else gets turned off, your breathing gets slower, your heartbeat gets lower because you're concentrating. So at that moment, when you're quiet, when you're sitting in the quiet is when your thoughts are following in; it's happened to me so many times, it's almost like a meditative state where I'm sculpting and working and all of a sudden, I'll start thinking of things, but because I'm so relaxed and so at peace, I'm able to process things, and I'm like, “man, maybe I shouldn't have reacted this way” or things that normally in the heat of the moment you just burst out or whatever at that moment you can process things better.
Maria Salazar: 00:15:07 And so for us, with Claymore Vets, we cannot do therapeutic work as far as diagnostic, in a treatment plan. But what we want to do is give Veterans a safe place to explore themselves. We just started last year at my school with my professor and we were full, blazing guns and then COVID happened. And so, we lost access to the studio. My personal life kind of imploded a little bit too. I had to move back to New Jersey with my kids, going through a little bit of a separation. So, I put the brakes on a little bit, because I had to find footing again. But now we're ready. We're ready to go back out to the world. I'm hoping to set up our own location now so that we don't have to literally rely on other studios to open the doors for us. So that's my goal for next year, set up our own facility.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:16:18 And one of the other things too, that you mentioned, just going back to the art form that you're talking about, but working with the clay and everything and how that helps in terms of the therapeutic process and again, you're not diagnosing anyone with anything or anything like that; but it's just, what we were talking about before we started recording, you were telling me how you would create something out of clay and then people would come up to you and talk to you about it. But you were pouring your emotions and your thoughts and feelings and stuff like that into the piece. And that allowed you to open up and talk about some of the things that you kind of kept bottled up inside. I thought that was an interesting thing. I wanted to bring that point up, because a lot of people have a struggle with being able to talk to other people about the things that are going on in their head. This seems like a way that you can start that conversation, maybe an ice breaker to get the conversation flowing. So how did that, help you, in your own process to be able to start talking about some of this stuff?
Maria Salazar: 00:17:37 So, I had my first solo exhibit, two or three years ago and I had to make 12 pieces. I made the theme be a biography of my life in clay. So, I literally had to go back to the beginning of my life and see how many traumatic events I've had that I've had to be in survival mode. From being a kid with my dad leaving then being an immigrant to this country, not speaking English, getting thrown into the school system when 9/11 happened. I joined the Marine Corps because 9/11 happened, something triggered in me and I was like, wait, we just left my country because of the terrorism. Now it's here, you know? So, there were so many things that were happening to me, like Iraq, that I couldn't talk about it. I would just push it down.
Maria Salazar: 00:18:36 This happened, we'll push it down. Like we have to survive, and it wasn't until I was preparing for this exhibit that I was able to pull piece by piece, kind of like an onion. It started peeling the layers. And I was like, “Oh my God, okay. This is why I'm feeling this.” Once it was a sculpture and it was in front of me when people would ask me, for example, one of my sculptures was about an immigrant girl behind the fences. And I felt like I was caged because I didn't belong here. I didn't belong there. I never actually put those thoughts in words until the sculpture was in front of me. And then I was able to talk about it, you know? So, it was like I was unraveling my own emotions as I was sculpting, you know?
Scott DeLuzio: 00:19:27 That makes sense. It makes sense because I think a lot of times we might just have trouble putting our own emotions and our own thoughts into words. Like we know what we're feeling and what's going on, but putting that into words is sometimes harder to do. When you're able to express it in a different way, not verbally necessarily, or even in a written format, if you're struggling with that in a journal or writing it down, sometimes putting it into some other medium, some art form, whether it's clay or paint or a sketch or something like that could be a good way to express yourself.
Maria Salazar: 00:20:11 And even if no one understands, it is a good release for you, for yourself, because in the process of making it, you are putting labels and categorizing, this is how I felt, this is what happened. This is how I reacted. And this is how we'd mold in me, you know? And I became this type of person because of that. I mean, we are a sum of everything that's happened in life to us, and sometimes we are reactive and sometimes we are active; so, we have to differentiate how to navigate those things. I think the symbolism of life or death for that for me is that you can mold yourself, you can mold whatever you want to be, and with fire you become strong, you become…I can't think so passionate about it. There are so many forms of clay. There's one called raccoon. It's a Japanese and Asian form of firing. You're literally throw the pieces into open fire and they change right before your eyes, kind of like a Phoenix rising from the ashes. There's so much symbolism that sometimes you don't even need to explain it, just watching it. You're kind of like, damn.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:21:40 That's awesome. And how that can help start a conversation and start getting some of those emotions out. I think it's a really good thing. Especially for people who are struggling with getting those words out and to that point, for the people who are out there who are struggling with some sort of trauma, whether it's post-traumatic stress or depression, or any other issues that they might be dealing with, what kind of advice might you have for those types of Veterans who are struggling with this stuff, who never considered art therapy as a form of therapy or are on the fence, they're considering it, but they're just not so sure. Maybe they're a little nervous about expressing themselves in a visual format or whatever. What kind of advice might you have for those types of people?
Maria Salazar: 00:22:36 So I think the first thing I would say to them is to forgive themselves for having to be so strong that we cannot ask for help. You know, we try to hold on so much thinking that I can do this with the strength I have; you have to take away your pride in order to ask for help, and that's the key component I've seen for all of us. I think we're too proud to say, I need help. Once you accept that, once you say, “okay, listen, I'm drowning here. I need something else other than this.” It's like the weight falls from both of your shoulders. And then you're more open to receiving that help. Just try it out, you know, just try it out. You don't have to feel comfortable with it, give it a few times and it'll click; it doesn't have to be painting. It could be like playing a guitar. It could be with clay. I've seen people welding. I honestly think that you have to try out what makes your soul click, we're so different. What's going to make me tick is not going to make you tick, but you have to find the one thing that makes you like, “damn, this makes you feel alive!” So just be open to it.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:24:07 One thing I found for me is that when you take something that is just a blank sheet of paper or blank canvas or blank whatever. And it's nothing really at that point, it's not that you're not going to stare at a blank piece of paper and be like, wow, that's something right. But then when you take that piece of paper or whatever it is, or that lump of clay or whatever, and you turn it into something, you've created something out of that. In my professional life, I do websites and things like that. And when you start with nothing and you build that up and when I first started, you actually had to type in all the code to create the website and you start with nothing, a blank screen basically, and you create something at the end, it feels good. It's like, wow, I created this. But I get the same feeling with art. When I paint something or I sketch something or whatever, I get that same kind of feeling like I've done something, I've accomplished something and it's a good feeling to have. I think that's another side of it too.
Maria Salazar: 00:25:19 Of course, I feel like we're connecting. I love that. You said that you have the pride, right. Because that's exactly what happens when we take off our uniform, the pride goes away with it. And then we're out in the world trying to find a place, trying to feel valuable again, trying to feel the pride that for me, clay gave me that, it gave me back my pride. Clay gave me back my purpose, and I feel like it's the bridge between the inner Veteran and then working with any form of art is that you go from being a destructive machine where our mission is to destruct, to create, to building up to make it a better world. And in that sense, I just had a piece of paper. It's nothing. And then when you draw something and you're proud of it, you just created something, you created the reality.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:26:18 If it's halfway decent, you might actually want to put it in a frame and stick it on the wall or something. I want to look at this thing, you know?
Maria Salazar: 00:26:25 Exactly. And those little battles, those little wins, you're like, man, that was good. You start adding all these little good feelings, eventually it'll become your form of operating. I think for us Veterans that are struggling with PTSD, I don't think there's ever going to be good days all the time. We're going to have ups and downs. It's a roller coaster. But you have to try to struggle well. Try to be very productive on your good days and not be so hard on yourself on the bad days so you can savor the good wins, the little wins.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:27:10 Yeah, absolutely. And, even my wife, the other day, when I was painting with my kids and I was doing all that, afterwards, she stopped me and she said, you know, it seemed like you were actually happy with what you're doing and everything. I was like, you know, I actually was, it was good. It was fun. And it was, it was actually the first time in a while that I actually really felt good about the thing that I was doing. It was enjoyable, you know? So again, it's not for everybody, but you know, if you're in that position and you're struggling and you just can't find any purpose or meaning, or you're not happy with anything, nothing brings you joy or whatever, give it a shot.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:27:57 What do you have to lose? I think you mentioned earlier, it doesn't have to be painting. It doesn't have to be clay. It doesn't have to be drawing or anything. It could be music. It could be welding or carpentry, or so many different art forms out there. Give it a try, give all these different things to try. Maybe you've never picked up a guitar before, so teach yourself, that's something to be proud of too. You've obviously learned things before in your life, you've gone to school, you've went through basic training, you've gone through different stuff. You've learned stuff before; you have that capability to do that.
Maria Salazar: 00:28:40 Yeah, that's exactly what I was going to say. We've done harder things in life, you know? Scarier things. I was 23 in Iraq; we've survived all the really hard stuff up until now. Learning how to play the guitar, you could do it, play with it. You could do it.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:29:03 It's like, I don't want to spend the money on a guitar, not if I don't know if I'm going to be able to do it well or things like that. Well, give it a try, give it six months. And if it doesn't work out, sell the guitar and don't worry about that type of thing. It's not that big of an investment to get into. And when we were growing up as kids, we didn't have stuff like YouTube or whatever to teach yourself how to do all this stuff. Like you actually had to go to find a teacher to teach you how to play guitar. There's all sorts of tutorials and things like that for all sorts of different art forms, whether it's painting or clay and all the different art forms that are out there, there's tutorials out there for anything you could think of. Because you don't know how to do it, that's not an excuse. That's a non-issue as far as I'm concerned, we can just wipe that one right off the books there, because that isn't even really an issue anymore, because there's so many different ways to learn the stuff out there.
Maria Salazar: 00:30:13 Because of how upside down the world is and COVID, and who knows when we will get back to being with people, I am building up a program where we'll be able to do it online, so that I'll be able to teach Veterans how to sculpt online. You don't even need clay because obviously you would have to have an access to a kiln, which most Veterans don't. There are other ways of making clay that it could air dry. It could be paper, clay, there's so many other forms that you could work with, not just mud.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:30:55 Right? Yeah, no, that's another innovative way of doing things and people are getting a little creative these days with how they're delivering their resources and their content and stuff to their target audience. And in your case, like many other people you're turning to online classes and things like that. And I think that's really good too, because a lot of people, even when it does become a little safer to be in person, people are still going to be a little weary of it for a period of time. I'd imagine. So, turn into the online stuff, whether it's an online class or YouTube videos or whatever it is, I think it is going to be very beneficial for people who have been isolated and need to do something with all that time that they have on their hands.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:31:53 Especially people who might've been laid off or whatever and don't have the ability to go travel to different classes or things like that. They probably need something for their own mental state to get them through this time. So, with your organization, and obviously things are a little bit different now, being online and everything, then the COVID situation, what does the process look like for you in, let's just call it a normal time period where people are coming in to a studio and they're sitting down to take these classes from you. What does that look like? What does that sort of look like for you?
Maria Salazar: 00:32:41 Yeah, so we would have them come in for a six-week workshop. They would come every week to the studio so that we can introduce them to the basics of clay to get acquainted with basic forms like coiling, like scorching and stuff. Then they could come back the next time and fire, because ceramics is a little bit of a lengthy process. The stages of, when do you need to fire, then you have to come back and glaze it or painted or whatever, and then you finally fire it again. We had them ongoing. There were some Veterans that actually lived in a Veterans’ home, and they would get bused out to us. And when they couldn't come, I would bring the clays to them. So, we became like a mobile unit type of thing. There are different aspects of how we did it. I used to go to universities and have the Veteran students have two workshops the same way. So, you just make it work, you adapt and overcome, right?
Scott DeLuzio: 00:33:59 Yeah, for sure. I think that's a great thing about having a Veteran run organization is the flexibility that you've learned in the military. You've learned to adapt to different situations and you can apply that too because you have to make it work. You apply that to everything. So, that's awesome. Is there anything else that you wanted to talk about in terms of, either what you're doing or art therapy in general or anything else like that?
Maria Salazar: 00:34:35 Well, like you said, if anyone takes anything from this conversation we've had is not to be afraid to go out and explore; all of us have suppressed our child imaginations for too long, and I think this world needs more writers, more poets, more singers, more artists, you know, there's so much negativity that I think we always hold ourselves to tap into our creative healing, and we can help each other out, because when you see someone follow their passions and be alive with what makes them happy, it triggers something on you. It's like a candle lighting, another candle, right? It's like, “Oh, this one's lit up already. And then you touch this person and this person lights up, and I think it's just a collective healing. So don't be afraid. Everything you desire is on the other side of fear.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:35:39 There you go. I think that's a great way to put it. Well, Maria, it has been an absolute pleasure speaking with you today. I love everything that you're doing with, Claymore Vets and the art therapy and everything. I think that's a really great thing. Where can people go to, either get in touch with you or find out more about Claymore Vets and everything that you do?
Maria Salazar: 00:36:02 Yeah. So, ClaymoreVets.org is the website for our organization. And we also we're on Instagram as well. And me as an artist, my studio is called Art and Soul, and you can find me on Instagram too with that.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:36:19 Awesome. Yeah. And I'll have links to all of that in the show notes. So, anyone who's looking to get in touch with, you can find all of that information and resources there, and they can just click over to get in touch with you and hopefully find out more about what you're doing. And, you know, I know as a nonprofit, you're probably always looking for donations and things of that sort as well. I'm sure. So, anyone who's out there looking for a Veteran run organization who's helping Veterans, please feel free to send your money over that way. I'm sure it will be put to great use.
Maria Salazar: 00:36:53 Definitely. Thank you so much for the plug. I hate that, but yes,
Scott DeLuzio: 00:36:57 No, absolutely. Definitely. Don't be ashamed of that. Definitely ask for money. People are willing to give it. So, thank you again, Maria.
Maria Salazar: 00:37:06 Thank you so much, Scott. It was a pleasure.
Scott DeLuzio 00:37:13 Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website DriveOnPodcast.com. We're on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @DriveOnPodcast.