It has been almost a month now, column fans, since I quit smoking, having renounced the filthy weed and its attendant wheezing, coughing, heart disease and premature death, for what is supposed to be clean living. I feel proud. I feel strong. I also feel awful.

This is because I still miss cigarettes--occasionally a lot, usually a little, but never not at all. I am, in fact, always actively not smoking and if you called me on the phone and asked what I was doing, I would tell you: I am not smoking.

Now that may seem to be a pretty odd way to define an activity (or really, the lack of one), but it just happens to be the way I have always looked at things. When I was in high school, for instance, I spent a lot of time not doing my homework and when I was even younger, I was mostly engaged in the task of not cleaning my room.

This does not mean that I was doing something else. I wasn't. I was, in effect, doing what I was not doing. In spirit, this was the precursor to my (endless) adolescence, which was spent not having sex, an activity I did not engage in just about every minute of every day.

Nowadays, though, I have branched out, becoming a Renaissance man of negative achievement. For instance, I now spend whole days not paying bills and from about Jan. 1 to about April 15, I am very busily engaged in not preparing my taxes. This is something of an obsession this time of the year. Whenever I get some spare time, I devote it almost entirely to not preparing my taxes--not getting out the receipts and not looking at my records and not adding up the awful numbers that will tell me in no uncertain terms that I am in very deep trouble.

At the moment, though, not smoking has become my principal endeavor. The only thing that compares with it is not eating. It is the companion activity, since the minute I start not to smoke, I want to eat, and then I have to not eat as well. As a result, I usually don't eat and don't smoke and spend a lot of time doing this. If you think chewing gum takes your mind off not smoking and not eating, you are badly mistaken.

In the Army, I spent most of my time not doing one thing or another. I spent my free time not shining my boots or polishing my belt buckle or learning how to take my rifle apart so I could put it back together again. (Can you blame me?)

It was in the army that I realized that I was probably expending more energy--nervous and otherwise--not doing things than I would have spent doing them. In fact, when you added in the anxiety about getting caught and factored in the possible penalties--anything from KP to death--it became apparent that the easiest and wisest thing was simply to do what had to be done and get it over with.

But still I have not changed my ways. I have spent whole days not mowing the lawn or clipping the hedges or mailing a check. Lately, I have been spending my evenings not fixing the light in the kitchen, and this spring, like last spring, I will devote a couple of Sundays to not painting the back porch. Sometimes I spend time not buying a gift or answering letters or not cleaning out the garage. I think I would rather not answer a letter than clean out the garage. It has to do with the dust.

This business of being occupied with whatever I am not doing is not a constant thing with me. I sometimes do what I am in fact doing--such as writing--but that is rare. In fact, I have carried the thing so far that just being awake sometimes means not being asleep--and vice versa. For instance, if I am tired, or I have just gotten up, I'm not necessarily awake. I am just not asleep. It works the other way around, too, but I can't figure out how to write it.

I am not sure if any of this makes any sense to you or whether, for that matter, this makes me mentally healthy or sick beyond imagination. All I know is that at this minute I want a cigarette and a bag of potato chips and I can't have either one. That defines what I am doing. I am not smoking and I am not eating. You might say that I am miserable, but that is not the way I would put it.

I prefer to say that I am not happy.