A few months ago, I co-launched an expat women's writing group here in Oslo. We have eight talented, enthusiastic members, hailing originally from countries all over the globe. I love my group. Seeing them every other week lifts my spirits and inspires me to write often and better.

(Note: We are not accepting new members at this time because we strive to allow everyone to share their writing at every meeting. With eight people, this is already often a stretch. However, I can attest to how helpful it is to find and link-up with a group of writers wherever you are. My best advice: If you can't find such a group... start one! It's easier than you might think, and always absolutely worth it. I'm happy to share the steps we took to get ours off the ground, so please don't hesitate to contact me with questions about that.)

Occasionally our assigned exercises yield some really fun writing on each of our parts. In particular, I enjoyed the 10-minute exercise we did a couple of weeks ago, and I thought I'd share my response to it here.

10 Minute Exercise: Think of your favorite animal. Why is it your favorite? Tell us about the first memory you have of one, seeing it up close or in a photo, hearing its name.

Now, here I must admit that I cheated a little bit. My actual first memory of a giraffe is a terrifying one. My mother owned a wall-hanging, three giraffes at a watering hole, black paint on bamboo slats, like window blinds without the window. She hung it on the wall of my childhood bedroom, the one I shared with both my little brothers until I was six-years-old. That wall-hanging scared the bajeezus out of me. I believed I saw it come alive at night, and that the giraffes bared their teeth at me. I believed they were going to eat me in my sleep. This was real, blood curdling, screaming-fit fear.

I got over it quickly once I saw giraffes at the zoo, and that's the memory I describe here. The intelligence and analysis are retrospective, of course. The romance of the moment is absolutely real.

The neck of the giraffe is what catches my eye. I stand up on my toes and stare through the links of the chain fence at her. The tallest, the most graceful of the group. She is brown and gold and her knees are knobbed. And I know she is a she the way I know the same thing about my mother. They are alike somehow, my mother and this grand, arching, spotted creature of the savanna.

My dad asks if I want to ride an elephant with my brothers. He taps my back with his hand when I don't answer. But I cannot pull my eyes away from the beautiful beast before me. The giraffe swoops her face down to the grassy ground of the pen. She takes a mouthful and chews. She has the cheekbones of Katharine Hepburn. Even the two stunted, tufted knobs at the crown of her head, retracting, devolving antlers, are lovely to me.

I say, No, I do not want to ride an elephant.

This is my first trip to the zoo since I grew old enough to run from one exhibit to another on my own, released from the confines of my stroller. I know my own mind. I do not want to watch the gorillas; their girth and gray-palmed human hands frighten me. I do not want to see the snakes. Their movements are too calculated, too geometric.

But I do want to watch the giraffe, to see her take enormous strides and dainty steps, and the flicker of her tasseled tail. She is womanly and queenly and I would reach up and touch her thick, whispering lips with my child-fingers if only someone would bring me a ladder.

Dad leaves me be. He's been in love before, too.